Court Grants Asylum To New Jersey Teacher Held By ICE And Sentenced To Death In Egypt

Immigration officials could still appeal the decision allowing Ahmed Abdelbasit to stay in the U.S.

A New Jersey teacher who faces a death sentence in Egypt for his pro-democracy activism and was at risk for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been granted asylum in the U.S.

Immigration Judge Daniel Morris ruled Tuesday that Ahmed Abdelbasit could remain in the U.S., his lawyer Anwen Hughes confirmed to HuffPost. But Abdelbasit was not immediately released from detention following that decision.

The physics teacher at the private Rising Star Academy in Union City was first detained by seven plainclothes ICE officers on his way to work in April. He has been held in a detention center in Elizabeth ever since.

ICE officials, who have argued that Abdelbasit should be deported, can still appeal the judge’s decision. The agency has not said if it plans to do so; an ICE spokesperson in Newark declined comment for this story.

Yusef Haddabah, a student in Abdelbasit’s physics class who helped launch an online petition and a social media campaign calling for his teacher’s release, told HuffPost on Wednesday that he’s relieved Abdelbasit has been granted asylum.

Haddabah visited Abdelbasit numerous times at the detention center. He also spearheaded multiple rallies with his classmates outside the ICE facility in support of their teacher’s release, the most recent just a few weeks ago.

Yusef Haddabah (left) poses with his teacher Ahmed Abdelbasit on a school field trip.

“At first it felt unreal. I know that is just the beginning for him, being released hopefully, but I know it’s a really good first step,” Haddabah said. “This shows there is checks and balances to even corruption.”

Haddabah remains worried about the possibility of ICE appealing the decision. But the 14-year-old has hope.

“I think I’ve always been hopeful because it’s something that he taught me. Even him, anytime I called or visited him, he always seemed hopeful. So it was impossible for me not to be hopeful,” Haddabah said.

Ahmed Abdelbasit speaks out against executions in Egypt during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Oct. 13, 2016.

Before arriving in the United States in June 2016, Abdelbasit was a doctoral student, physics professor and activist at Cairo University, where he helped organize peaceful protests against the military’s removal of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in July 2013.

His activism led to his expulsion from the university and a decision to leave Egypt for his own safety. In May 2016, Abdelbasit was sentenced to death in absentia by a military court. Human Rights Watch called the sentence “completely baseless” and the evidence against him “almost non-existent” in a interview with HuffPost at the time of Abdelbasit’s detention in the U.S.

If he is yet deported, Abdelbasit’s fate in Egypt would be harsh. 

“If they send me back to Egypt, I will be hung right away,” he told HuffPost by phone from the detention center earlier this year.

His supporters are hoping of a different future.

“I just want to see him get out and live his everyday life again,” Haddabah said.