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'Little Gitmo'

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Once Aref entered the general-population prison, he assumed that things would get better—that he would be able to embrace his wife and hug his kids, and that he might even be transferred again to a prison closer to home.

But so far, none of that has changed.

The FBI investigation and the CMUs have so alienated his family, especially Zuhur, who has still not visited her husband since his transfer. She hasn’t allowed the kids to go, either—though supporters are working to set up a trip for this summer.

None of Aref’s kids know exactly why their father is in jail.

Azzam, playing with the yellow gum in his mouth, says, “Money laundering or something, right?”

“It was an FBI sting,” Alaa says. “They kind of set him up for missiles or something.”

Salah, who looks most like his father in his long white shirt, nods.

“I miss him,” Alaa says. Turning to Steve Downs, who has been sitting quietly against the wall, she asks, “When my father gets out, they can deport him right away?”

Downs nods. Aref will be deported the day he is released from prison. Among them, Dilnia is the only American citizen, which means that all the others could be deported on that day too, or shortly after. Zuhur was recently denied citizenship.

Alaa will turn 18 before her father is released, and she could apply for citizenship. If it’s granted, she could become the guardian of the others.

I ask whether what’s been done to their father makes them angry. The boys are silent. “I’m upset,” Alaa says. “But my dad taught us never to hate.”


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