Waiting for Osama

Osama Altashi, a Muslim man arrested for immigration violations as the FBI fruitlessly looked for any terrorist connections (“Searching for Osama,” SN&R, December 20), was still being held in Arizona without bail after two months.

Bail bond hearings had been postponed due to changes in immigration service protocols in the wake of September 11, but on December 31, Altashi’s case finally went before a judge.

Back home in Sacramento, Altashi’s wife, Catharin Thomas, was losing patience. She was tired of hearing that he would be released any day now. When he called after the hearing on New Year’s Eve, she no longer knew what to expect.

“Guess what?” Thomas remembers her husband saying over the phone. His voice told her there was trouble.

Oh no, she replied, what this time?

She feared yet another delay, but Altashi surprised her. Bail had been granted. He was coming home.

It took a second for Thomas to realize he’d been teasing her with his foreboding voice, but then she started screaming. She says that by the time she called to tell her mother, she could only manage a whisper.

Altashi was held without bail for violating his student visa. He hadn’t seen his wife in over two months, and he knew Thomas was struggling to support her 9-year-old son without the help of his income. Held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service while the larger FBI investigation on terrorism continued, Altashi found his coming graduation from college, his job and his presence in this country threatened. Released on bail, he would see what he could salvage.

As of January 3, Altashi remained in custody at Eloy Detention Center, but was expected home within a couple of days. Altashi will still have to face trial on the visa violation, and there’s still a chance that he’ll be deported, but Thomas doesn’t want to think about that yet.

The first thing her husband wants to do when he gets home, she says, is go to Red Lobster. She laughs. “He’s lost so much weight,” she says, “40 pounds.” She claims that it’s because of all the ham and baloney served at the detention facility, things Muslims can’t eat.

Altashi has spoken with a few of his professors, according to Thomas, and will return to California State University at Sacramento. John Burke of Comprehensive Security says that he would welcome Altashi back as a supervisor, as long as he can be legally employed.

Though the future of her family is still uncertain, Thomas is simply enjoying the fact that they’ve made it through this phase.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” she says.