When he was 15 years old in 1976, Niberd Abdalla immigrated to the United States from Iraq fleeing persecution due to his family’s Kurdish heritage and democratic activism. He’s lived as an undocumented person in the United States for the past 41 years and has complied with biannual immigration enforcement check-ins for the past seven years.

On the morning of June 8, when Niberd, a former Florence resident who now lives in Connecticut, appeared for his six-month check in at the regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Suffolk, he was detained and arrested by ICE.

Now, members of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), religious leaders, and community activists are calling for his return home. A rally took place outside Northampton City Hall on July 11 in which more than 50 people were in attendance.

Chris Goudreau photo

Ellen McShane, the mother of Abdalla’s 37-year-old son who is in the U.S. Navy, said she first met Abdalla horseback riding in Central Park in New York City in their early 20s. She became pregnant with her son and the couple were planning to get married, but both of their parents were against the marriage.

“I went to Connecticut with my mother and we lost each other and we lost each other’s contact,” she said at the rally. “And then 35 years later, through the magic of Facebook he found our son … By this time my other marriage had dissolved and I agreed to meet him and see him … The passion that held us together when we were young was still there.”

With nearly half a lifetime apart, the couple was able to reconnect and live a happy life together — until ICE detained Abdalla, she said.

“Now, he’s been taken away from us,” she said, her voice breaking as she held back tears. “He’s not a number. He’s not a one, two, three, four, five. He’s a real living human being.”

According to a press release from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Abdalla’s primary language is English, he has no remaining relatives in Iraq, and also suffers from a serious health condition. Abdalla is part of a national group of 1,500 Iraqis who all face imminent deportation. In June, the ACLU in Michigan won a two-week stay of deportation, which was renewed on July 10 for two additional weeks, the release said.

Attorney Buz Eisenberg, an Ashfield attorney with the ACLU Immigrants Protection Project of Western Mass who is representing Abdalla, said his client has worked with ICE during the past seven years and he believes Abdalla is being unjustly targeted.

“I’ve got a good idea says ICE,” Eisenberg said at the rally. “‘Instead of having to hide in the bushes and extract undocumented people, which takes a lot of investigatory work and you can’t racially profile or you get in trouble, all we have to do is go to their homes where we can just grab them.’ So, the most compliant people in the immigrant community, those are the ones they want to send back to an uncertain fate.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.