The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Rules Prevent Scholar From Researching

Gil Halsted, Wisconsin Public Radio
Monday May 10, 2004

(EAU CLAIRE) New Homeland Security rules may prevent a Palestinian Fulbright Scholar from completing his research at UW-Eau Claire.

Mohammed Riffi, a mathematician from the Islamic University of Gaza, was deported last month when he tried to return to Eau Claire after visiting family in the Middle East. He says when he told immigration officials at the Atlanta airport he was a Fulbright Scholar headed for Wisconsin, they ridiculed him and threatened to detain him for a month.

Riffi apparently broke a new Homeland Security rule by leaving the country from the wrong airport. His visa required him to leave from Minneapolis/St. Paul but a connecting flight took him through Cincinnati.

Carl Markgraf is the director of the UW-Eau Claire Center for International Education. He says Riffi fell into a mandatory deportation status and was deported. He says Riffi was detained for many hours in Atlanta and interrogated there, and then was deported back to Paris and then Gaza. He says Riffi felt he was treated inhumanely and unjustly.

In an e-mail to colleagues in Eau Claire, Riffi said at one point he feared he would be sent to the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. Markgraf says UW-Eau Claire is working to convince federal officials to allow Riffi to return to finish his research on a math teaching technique, but he says even if the Fulbright program issues him a new visa, he may not be allowed return.

Markgraf says the decision is up to the caprice of the INS official at the airport, who will know Riffi has been deported and may use that to deny him entry again. Markgraf says the new rules make it very difficult.

Markgraf says there are no indications that Riffiís religion or ethnicity played a role in his deportation. He says while Riffi is angry about what he sees as the arbitrary rules that cut short his fellowship, he doesn’t blame the Fulbright program.