Professor left in limbo

By Web Master

By STEVE STAEGER

Senior Reporter

All Dr. Ashraf Farahat wants to know is why.

The former Oakland University physics professor is stuck at the U.S.-Canadian border and, according to his attorney, will have to stay there until he gets some answers.

Farahat, once a visiting professor who began teaching at Oakland in the fall of 2006, attended a conference in Mexico last summer. On his way back, a stop at customs in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., turned into a nightmare.

Visa revoked

“An immigration officer asked me to go to another room, where I waited for two hours,” Farahat said, recalling the incident. “They asked me why I was in Mexico and then searched my luggage.”

According to Farahat, the officers carried out an in-depth search, even sifting through his notebooks.

All this time, Farahat continued to ask the same question: Why?

But the officers refused to tell him anything and intensified their questioning.

“They started asking me questions about the Middle East,” Farahat said. “(I told them) I hadn’t been overseas since the last time I was in Cairo (Egypt) to get a new visa in 2006.”

After more questioning, the officers finally told Farahat that his visa had been revoked. He asked the officers for the reason, but they could not supply one.

Instead, they told him that he would have to go back to the U.S. embassy in Cairo to sort it all out before he could be allowed back in the United States.

“I told them that this would be impossible, as I only had $12 in my pocket and you cannot go to Cairo in such a way,” Farahat said.

A permanent resident of Canada, Farahat proceeded to show the officers his documentation and was booked on a flight to Toronto the next day. In the meantime, the officers took him to an immigration jail where he spent the night, awaiting his flight.

The next day, Farahat was escorted through the airport in handcuffs and sent to a cell where he would await his flight.

“I was so embarrassed,” Farahat said.  “All these people were looking at me like I was a criminal.”

After three hours in an airport cell, Farahat boarded a flight to Toronto.

In Toronto, he went to a hotel near the U.S. embassy and contacted his family, who had not heard from him since before he began his trip home.

“My wife and two children were waiting for me in Detroit,” Farahat said. “I had no way to contact them until I got to Toronto, a day after I was supposed to arrive in Detroit.”

Farahat went to the U.S. embassy in Toronto the next day to try to sort everything out.

“I told them I didn’t understand what was going on and that I did not break any laws,” Farahat said.

But officials at the embassy told him that they could not help and he would have to travel to Cairo to sort everything out.

After being rejected in Toronto, he took a Greyhound bus to Windsor and rented a place to stay.  Realizing that this situation was not going to be handled swiftly, Farahat’s wife packed up their house in Auburn Hills and moved the family to Windsor.

Farahat traveled to Cairo in December 2007 and made an appointment to apply for a new visa at the embassy. According to Farahat, after waiting for 30 minutes at the embassy, an officer informed Farahat that he could not help.

“He told me that before he could issue me a new visa, I need to know why my old visa was revoked,” Farahat said. “He told me to contact the Department of State to find out what happened.”

 The officer also told Farahat that this usually happens when the government doesn’t like a political group that a foreigner belongs to or the political views that the person holds, Farahat said.

“I don’t belong to any groups or have any views,” Farahat said. “I just spend all day in my laboratory and go home at night.”

Since his trip to Cairo, Farahat has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of State to try and find out why his visa was revoked.

He has not received any feedback from the government.

Reaching out to OU

Farahat, originally from Alexandria, Egypt, came to the United States in 2000 to get his Ph.D. from the Florida Institute of Technology.

In 2006, Farahat was hired into the physics department at OU to begin teaching in the fall as a visiting professor. Before the semester began, he traveled back to Egypt to get a new five-year visa. He was issued a new J-1 visa, which was supposed to expire in 2011.

Because of a long security clearance, Farahat was not allowed back into the country immediately and missed the first two weeks of classes in the fall.

After getting back to Oakland, Farahat taught physics 1 and 2 during the fall semester of 2006 and the winter and spring semesters of 2007.

During this time, Farahat made a good impression on many students.

“He was one of the best physics teachers here at Oakland,” said senior Poornima Nayak, one of Farahat’s former students.

Nayak took an 8 a.m. class with Farahat during the spring and said even though the class was so early she came to class excited each day because of Farahat.

“Students didn’t feel intimidated by him,” Nayak said. “If we didn’t understand things, he was willing to teach in different ways.”

Farahat took a break from teaching over the summer semester to attend and present a paper at the International Cosmic Ray Conference in Merida, Mexico from July 3 to July 17 in 2007.

To prepare for his trip, Farahat said he went to the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) and was cleared for the trip.  He also visited the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) dean’s office, where he received funding for the trip.

Dr. Andrei Slavin, the chair of the physics department at that time, said he had concerns about Farahat’s trip.

“He had issues at the border in 2006,” Slavin said. “I don’t know why he would want to risk leaving the country again.”

But Slavin said he supported Farahat’s decision.

“We support all of our employees,” Slavin said. “We would never stop a professor from going to a conference.”

After Farahat’s problem at the border, he e-mailed Slavin to update him on his status. Slavin and Farahat exchanged e-mails during the fall semester, while Farahat was fighting to find out why his visa was revoked.

At the beginning of the winter semester, Slavin e-mailed Farahat to tell him he had hired a replacement professor to teach Farahat’s classes. Slavin told The Oakland Post that Farahat is no longer an employee of the university.

Farahat replied to Slavin’s e-mail asking for the university’s help in solving his problem.

“Although I understand that someone has been hired to teach my classes … I have no doubt that the Physics Department and … OU still care about this issue and why it would happen to a faculty member (who) represented the university at an international conference,” Farahat wrote in a Jan. 19 e-mail to Slavin.

In the e-mail, obtained by The Oakland Post, Farahat asked Slavin to petition the administration to lobby state and national politicians to try and find out what happened to his visa

Slavin responded to Farahat a month later in a Feb. 19 e-mail.  

“I discussed this issue with the administration of CAS,” Slavin wrote in the e-mail. “The answer is that CAS will not appeal to the senator or congressman on your behalf.”

This response prompted Farahat to reach out to his former students. In a March 12 e-mail to former students, Farahat asked students to write e-mails and letters to senators and to O

U President Gary Russi.  

“Unfortunately no one will listen to me if I am by myself, but if you help me my voice will get louder,” Farahat wrote to students.

Farahat’s plea prompted students to act. Two of Farahat’s former students set up a Facebook group dedicated to spreading the word.  

One of those students is senior Dan Madej, who took physics 1 and 2 with Farahat in the winter and spring semester of 2007.

“He always made lectures interesting and was always available before and after class for students,” Madej said.

When Nayak got the e-mail she was so shocked that she typed up a letter of intent to send to legislators and to Russi. She is gathering signatures and plans on sending the letter when she gets more.

Nayak says she has also reached out to Slavin, but has yet to reach him.

“The really unfortunate thing is that OU hasn’t done anything for Dr. Farahat,” Nayak said. “It’s pretty sad to be part of this institution.”  

“I felt bad that he couldn’t rely on administrators,” Nayak added. “When professors can’t rely on administrators, students really can’t.”

When contacted for comment on Dr. Farahat’s situation, the president’s office said, “The university does not represent students, faculty or staff in their personal legal matters.”

One of Farahat’s students sent him the contact information of Edward Bajoka, a Troy immigration attorney. Farahat contacted Bajoka and the two spoke about the issue on the phone.

“This is really something I’ve never come across,” he said.

According to Bajoka, he has even consulted fellow immigration attorneys, including his former immigration law professor, and none of them have ever seen a situation like this.

“It’s a catch-22 and he’s stuck in limbo,” Bajoka said. “I told him the best thing he can do from here is to try and get support from students and both the administrations at Oakland University and his former institution (the Florida Institute of Technology) to get on elected officials.”

As for the reason for his visa getting revoked, Bajoka said since the Patriot Act was passed, a lot is up in the air for people like Farahat.

“It could be as simple as some jerk border guy who said ‘I don’t like this guy’s name,” Bajoka said.