Politics & Policy

Asylum for Yousef

Mosab Hassan Yousef must have encountered nearly everything on his unlikely journey. But surely he never ran across anything as stupid as the American immigration bureaucracy.

Yousef is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a Hamas founder, and was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps. At the age of 18, he purchased some machine guns and planned to join the terrorist organization’s militant wing. But he was arrested with the guns, and during a stint in Israeli prison, he had a change of heart — and joined Hamas as an undercover agent of the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet after his release from prison in 1997.

In that capacity, he prevented dozens of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings and assassinations. Shin Bet agent Gonen Ben-Itzhak, who worked with Yousef for a decade, has broken his cover so he can testify in U.S. immigration court on the informant’s behalf. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz says he was the country’s “most valuable source in the militant organization’s leadership,” and credits him with the arrest of Fatah head Marwan Barghouti and Hamas members Abdullah Barghouti and Ibrahim Hamid.

In 2007, he came to the U.S. and applied for asylum. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service denied his application in 2009, on the grounds that he provided material support to a terrorist organization. This is madness.

The department bases its argument on Yousef’s autobiography, Son of Hamas. In it, he reports that when Shin Bet agents showed him pictures of Hamas members who were suspected of involvement in a March 2001 bombing, he told the agents that he’d driven some of the members to safehouses. Of course, this is the kind of thing that spies do routinely — assist the enemy when asked, especially in small ways, so as not to blow their cover. Common sense indicates that our material-support rules don’t apply to support that’s provided — at the behest of a U.S. ally — within a broader attempt to bring down a terrorist organization.

If Yousef returns to the West Bank, he risks execution. Obviously, DHS doesn’t believe he’s a threat, or it would detain him; in fact, the FBI has advised DHS that Yousef is not a threat. He has converted to Christianity and has become vocal critic of Islam.

Yousef has a hearing tomorrow at which a judge will decide on his appeal for asylum. This shouldn’t be a complicated call for the judge or anyone else — Yousef deserves asylum. If our immigration system can’t distinguish between him and a true terrorist, it’s more witless and perverse than even we imagined.

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