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    INS blocks Al-Najjar from working

    The former USF teacher, who had been jailed on secret evidence, will not be allowed to work while he fights deportation.

    By SUSAN ASCHOFF

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001


    The federal government denied Mazen Al-Najjar a work permit this week, four months after he was released from jail because immigration officials failed to prove he was a terrorist.

    "To grant your application would be contrary to the best interests of the United States," the Immigration and Naturalization Service wrote in a letter to the Tampa resident this week.

    "Based on a careful review of all the evidence . . . regarding your presence and activities, in particular your association with person known or suspected to be involved with terrorist organizations," the request is denied, said the letter, signed by INS district director Robert Wallis in Miami.

    Immigrants awaiting a decision on their status and whether they may remain in the United States need INS authorization to hold a job.

    Al-Najjar applied for the work permit about five months ago, while still detained in an INS jail in Bradenton. He was released Dec. 15 by then-Attorney General Janet Reno after several judges ruled he had been denied his constitutional rights because the government did not share any of its secret evidence.

    Al-Najjar had been jailed since May 1997 after being ordered deported for overstaying a student visa.

    The government says he is a supporter of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group claiming bombings in the Middle East. Ramadan Abdullah Shallah worked at a Tampa think tank with Al-Najjar before leaving the United States and assuming leadership of the Damascus-based group in 1995.

    Al-Najjar denies any ties to terrorists.

    While Al-Najjar appeals his deportation, a legal step which can take years, he wants to support his wife and three daughters. He has a doctorate in engineering and has taught classes at the University of South Florida and worked as a translator.

    "I was a little surprised -- I thought they'd learned their lesson from the courts," Al-Najjar said of the denial. "With the INS, I should always expect the worst. They have been trying to make my life a shambles for years."

    Authorization for employment is discretionary, INS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia said Friday. "Every case is adjudicated on its own merits."

    Al-Najjar's wife, Fedaa, had been working as a pharmacist but is looking for a job that provides health insurance for the family, she says. She is fighting deportation and waiting for her work permit to be renewed.

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