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Michele Swenson Update 10/14/04
by - Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004 at 1:08 PM

Mother gets small victory; Swensen now permitted to see children overnight

Record-Courier staff writer Diane Smith wrote:
The children of a Kent man facing deportation will get more time with their mother in the near future.
An agreement worked out between Michele Swensen, her lawyers and the Department of Job and Family Services is permitting Swensen expanded visitation with her children, Amina, Layla and Sami Al-Jailani.
The children were removed from Swensen’s home and put in foster care last month, just days after she received a notice recommending that they be returned to her custody. Social workers allege that she had been lax in taking her medications, but Swensen believes the development was because of religious bias against her husband’s Muslim faith and his homeland of Yemen.

Swensen’s husband, Ashraf Al-Jailani, remains in a prison in Berks County, Pa. awaiting deportation on a domestic violence charge, which has been pardoned by the governor. However, a pardon does not have an impact in his deportation order because the charge was a misdemeanor.

Swensen, who previously had only two hours of supervised visitation with her children while they are in foster care, now will have overnight visits with her children, starting this weekend or next. The visits, she said, will permit her to take her children to the local mosque for Iftar dinners during the Islamic holiday season of Ramadan.
“I just want my kids back,” she said. “It’s not as fast as I thought, but at least we’re on the right track. I am glad for that.”

Prosecutor Allison Blakemore-Manayan said the visitations will take place from 5p.m. on Fridays to 9 a.m. on Saturdays, starting this weekend, if transportation can be worked out. A hearing will be held in December to decide the next steps in the case.
“The department is working toward reunification of the family,” she said.

Stricken from a prior motion was a statement indicating that the department planned to seek permanent custody of the children.
Attorney Robert Rosenberg, Al-Jailani’s custody attorney, previously had filed a motion to remove the caseworker from the case. However, the caseworker voluntarily stepped down, making Rosenberg’s motion moot. A new worker has been assigned to the case.
Magistrate James Aylward, meanwhile, commented on the continued detention of Al-Jailani. He said he has learned that the government no longer is concerned that Al-Jailani is a terrorist, but is holding him because it believes he is a danger to his wife.
He said the concerns about domestic violence are noted in the case plan, and the court would be willing to use its discretion to see that Swensen and the children are protected, if need be.
“We can’t do that as long as he’s being held,” he said.
Rosenberg said he would relay that news to Al-Jailani’s immigration lawyer.
“I think it’s fair to say that his wife is his number one ally in the effort to get him freed,” he said.

Magistrate challenges detention By Stephen Dyer Beacon Journal staff writer Stephen Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3523 or at

SHALERSVILLE TWP. - A Portage County magistrate Tuesday challenged the federal government's reasoning behind its continued detention of former Kent resident Ashraf Al-Jailani in York, Pa. In a custody hearing involving Al-Jailani's three children, Portage County Juvenile Court Chief Magistrate James Aylward said the father's continued absence is making the custody case tough to work. Claims that Al-Jailani was an al-Qaeda terrorist bent on blowing up GOJO Industries -- where he worked -- have been dismissed by every judge that's heard them. But federal authorities continued to hold Al-Jailani, 40, saying he poses a threat to his 34-year-old wife, Michele Swensen. Aylward asked Rob Rosenberg, who is Al-Jailani's attorney in the custody case regarding the couple's children, to tell federal authorities that Al-Jailani could be controlled by his court, rather than be held 325 miles away without any charges. Aylward said Al-Jailani ``is in fact subject to the jurisdiction of this court, which can limit his contact'' with his children and wife. ``However, we can't do these things (offer the limitations) while he's somewhere else.'' Rosenberg said he would convey the message. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday evening that the agency has the authority to hold Al-Jailani for national security or public safety reasons. He wouldn't say which reason applied to Al-Jailani. ``We certainly maintain discretion,'' Russ Knocke said. ``We will ensure national security and public safety by not releasing individuals who present these dangers.''
This isn't the first time Aylward has criticized federal authorities for an unwillingness to cooperate with the case before his court. He went after the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year for not being willing to transport Al-Jailani to Portage County so he could attend the hearings concerning his children. The Portage County Jail is next door to Aylward's building, and the feds periodically house prisoners there, he said.
Aylward continued to grant temporary custody of the children to the state, while Swensen -- who has struggled with depression since her husband was taken away nearly two years ago -- will have more visitation rights. The earliest her children could be returned would be mid-December.

``I just want my kids back,'' Swensen said. ``It's just not as fast as I want it to be.''
Al-Jailani will have a hearing Nov. 1 at which he will say he would be persecuted if he were deported to his native Yemen, as the U.S. government has proposed doing. Federal authorities say he should be deported because of his 1999 domestic violence conviction and violation of a protection order.
Gov. Bob Taft pardoned Al-Jailani in 2001.
Swensen, who earlier expressed fear of her husband but now wants him released, said Tuesday she was heartened by Aylward's comments.``The judge is a fair man and very just,'' she said.

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