For nearly three years, Kirkland resident Sam Malkandi has languished in maximum-security prisons in the Puget Sound area. He has never been charged with a crime. Instead, the government has tried to depict Malkandi, whose family came here as Iraqi refugees in 1998, as a threat to national security and deport him. Two weeks ago, the 9th Circuit Federal court in Seattle heard his appeal. A decision is expected this year.
Malkandi, who worked at one point as a cook for the Northshore School District and ran his own janitorial business, is an unlikely candidate for the label “terrorist.” He’s a family man, and his wife and children are part of our community. His wife is a working mother: an assistant at an area dental practice. His two children are both students in area schools: Nicole at the University of Washington and Arvin at a local elementary school. Malkandi is also a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and receives visits from a church elder on a regular basis. He even worked with Northrop Grumman as a cultural advisor for training Iraq-bound security contractors.
Authorities have focused on his friendship with a man he met in Northgate Mall in 1998, who asked Malkandi to help arrange a doctor for a friend in Yemen. That man turned out to be a member of al-Qaida. The government never proved Malkandi did any more for the man than have a phone conversation about getting a prosthetic leg and asking a health care provider the cost.
But a lie — made up to ensure he and his family had a way out of a refugee camp — on a refugee application 18 years ago has come back to haunt him.
It’s this fabrication (a claim of being arrested in Pakistan for possessing books that clashed with strict Muslim thinking) that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized on, opting to deport him under provisions of the REAL ID Act, which since 2005 allows a lower burden of proof to deport refugees and deny requests for asylum.
We support our government’s efforts to protect our nation and to keep us safe, but the Malkandi case is a step too far. Government prosecutors need to either bring a criminal case, find more compelling proof that he’s a terrorist, or leave him be.
We hope the 9th Circuit will use their collective wisdom to see it’s time to let Malkandi go home — to his Kirkland home.