Oklahoman born in Iraq detained by INS

Saturday, March 22nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- A Stillwater man who was born in Iraq and moved to the United States when he was 6 years old has been detained by federal agents.

Saief Alobaidi, who has lived in America for 18 years, was taken into custody by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services on an immigration violation, FBI Agent Scott Billings told the Stillwater News Press.

Several thousand FBI agents across the country have been diverted from their usual duties to interview the about 50,000 Iraqi-born residents of America. Attorney General John Ashcroft gave the FBI authority to arrest people on immigration violations.

Knowing that such arrests are happening across the country is of little comfort to Alobaidi's family.

Alobaidi was picked up by agents while he was at work Wednesday evening. He is being held in Oklahoma City, his family said.

"When they came here looking for him, they said they wanted to ask him some questions -- to interview him," said Sam Mulla, his mother. "They said they needed 15 minutes of his time -- 'Come with us, we have some questions."'

Alobaidi's mother, father, wife and two children live in Stillwater.

His father, Ali Alobaidi, said he moved his family to America in 1985 to save their lives. Saief has not returned to Iraq since, Ali Alobaidi said.

Mary Vega, Saief's common-law wife, said he is as American as he can get. She said he does not speak or read Arabic very well and converted to Christianity several years ago. He graduated from high school in Bartlesville.

"He has tattoos and listens to rap music," she said. "He is Americanized."

Vega said she believes her husband was picked up by federal officials because he is on probation for a 2001 felony drug charge. He had planned to finish drug court, an alternative sentencing program, within five weeks.

"No one told us when he pleaded guilty to the charges that he could be deported for it," she said.

Saief Alobaidi was charged with drug possession with intent to distribute in February 2001.

His family is horrified at the thought he could be shipped back to Iraq.

"If he gets sent back there, they will shoot him or put him in prison because they consider him a traitor," Vega said.

Saief's father said he has spoken to INS officials and is confident his son will be released.

"This has all been a big mistake," he said.

The FBI would not comment further on the case. INS officials in Dallas did not return telephone calls.