Palestinian freed from jail

DES MOINES (AP) — A Palestinian man who was jailed in Iowa for two years while immigration authorities tried to secure permission to deport him has been released after a federal judge ruled he had been held for too long without a reasonable expectation of being repatriated soon.

Advocates for immigrants’ rights say Hasan Salama Dibai Ghithan’s case is not unusual and that far too many immigrants awaiting deportation are jailed indefinitely because they don’t know how to navigate the U.S. legal system.

“I haven’t seen the sun in two years,” Ghithan told The Associated Press on Friday, just hours after his release from the Pottawattamie County Jail. “Man, it was just a nightmare. A nightmare. I’m glad it’s kind of over now.”

Ghithan, 33, was trying to renew his expired green card in Omaha, Nebraska, in January 2017, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents discovered he had been convicted on a drug charge in Texas a year earlier. They locked him up in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Months passed as Ghithan sought his release or deportation to a part of the world he hasn’t even visited in 14 years. He became so desperate in jail that he even offered to pay for his own flight.

Complicating his departure, Ghithan can’t be flown direct to his homeland because the U.S. doesn’t recognize Palestine as a sovereign, independent state. Immigration officials said they must first obtain permission from Israel, transport him to Jordan and get him permission to cross the Allenby Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank, although Jordan rescinded a memorandum of understanding that allowed such crossings in September. Thus, the U.S. government has been unable to get the required permissions.