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Meet An All-American Guy Who Was Suddenly And Violently Deported To Jordan


khalid shudooh

This is the story of Khalid Shudooh, who this reporter met while growing up in Ohio.

The last time I saw Khalid Shudooh was on the Fourth of July 2007, in Cincinnati.

He invited me to a party, where we wore the colors of the flag, ate popsicles and grilled all-beef hot dogs. We lit sparklers, waving them and laughing until they faded to a dim glow. 

Two weeks later, my friend Saira called me, panicked.

"Khalid is in prison," she told me. 

I was confused. Khalid, one of my close friends, was a devoted Muslim who didn't even date or get drunk.

I learned that Khalid's visa had expired and that bail was set at $250,000. Whether he stayed in the country would be decided whenever a judge got around to it. In the meantime, all he could do was wait.

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Khalid Shudooh grew up in the U.S., but was born in Jordan.

When he was four, Khalid told me, his dad accepted a scholarship at the University of Wisconsin. The whole family picked up and moved to Madison, where young Khalid adjusted quickly, taking ESL classes and making friends in kindergarten.

Within a year, Khalid barely remembered what life had been like overseas. He was a confident class clown who played soccer and went sledding. He loved the Green Bay Packers.

By the time Khalid was in middle school, the family relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, so his dad could pursue another graduate degree. Khalid joined the football team and, at 14, was employed doing odd jobs at a carpet cleaning business.

But after 9/11 he felt a shift in how his family was treated.

The day after the attacks, he was walking to class when a boy snarled at him in the hallway.

"Tell your uncles to stop bombing our country," the boy said. Khalid, normally easygoing and congenial, punched him.

Then, his younger sister came home crying. Some girls on the bus had ripped the hijab she was wearing from her head.

Khalid's dad had applied to hundreds of jobs around the country and received only rejections. He finally took a job at an Islamic school in North Carolina, moving the family once again.

But after a couple of years, he was restless and wanted to go back to the Middle East. The family packed up and sent Khalid to live with his older brother, who was studying at the University of Cincinnati.

During his senior year of high school, Khalid played football, ran track and worked full-time to pay the bills.

"I was a kid and was totally responsible for everything, rent, food, getting myself to school, going to football," he told me.

He excelled on the football team, set school records on the track team, and graduated high school with honors.

Khalid enrolled at the University of Cincinnati and started studying business.

After his freshman year, his visa expired.

Khalid ignored the visa expiration. For years, Congress had been debating the Dream Act, which would allow young people who had lived in the U.S. since childhood to stay in the country if they joined the military or pursued an education.

He figured he wouldn't run into trouble if it worked out. After all, he was a college student who held down several jobs. He didn't have so much as a speeding ticket on his record.

Then, as he was getting in the shower before class, there was a loud banging on the bathroom door.

"U.S. Marshals, open up!" they said.

Khalid quickly got dressed and opened the door. His brother was next to him.

"Before I even got out, there are two marshals, a man and a woman, and they turn me around cuff me before I can even move," Khalid said. "I was trying to keep my cool, I certainly didn't register what was happening."

His voice catches.

"My brother wasn't letting him cuff him and so they slammed him down to the ground and just left him there, cuffed," he says.

It would only get worse.

Khalid and his older brother learned they had been found out through a background check at his job. They were taken to a holding cell, where bail was set at $5,000 each. Then they were moved to a prison in Kentucky where many illegal immigrants are held.

Khalid was placed in a room with five bunk beds. He was allowed outside once a week, and was too distressed to eat. He spent most of the time in his bunk, asleep.

His cell mates were in prison for felonies like dealing drugs or armed robbery. There were intense fights and threats. The screams of a man on suicide watch echoed through the halls.

After ten days, Khalid was told that the judge had reviewed his bail. Now the sum was set at $250,000, impossible for his family to pay.

Khalid was handed his belongings, a t-shirt, shorts, flip flops. He was moved again, to Seneca County in Northern Ohio, where he shared a cell with his brother. 

During his 100 days there, he considered his options. He met a man from Palestine who was fighting his own case and had spent almost three years in prison. He knew he'd have to wait if he fought to stay in the country. And even then, there was little chance he could stay. 

So he waited for a judge. When the day came, he was told that he would see the judge only through a television. But the screen was broken so he was given five minutes to talk.

"He couldn't even see me, and here I am trying to explain my side of the story," Khalid said.

He decided to stop fighting the system, cut his losses and go home.

Khalid was handcuffed and taken to the airport. The guards handed him the money from his prison account, 73 cents. He threw it back at them.

He boarded the plane and immediately fell asleep.

"It was the first time I wasn't being watched for 4 months, the first time I could really relax," he said.

He didn't wake up until landing.

Once back in Jordan, Khalid didn't understand the language and culture overseas. His Arabic was awful, and he struggled to communicate or further his education.

He recently graduated from college and moved to Kuwait to live with his parents. He works in real estate. But he still struggles with the consequences of his deportation.

Khalid's upbringing as a mainstream American made him initially feel isolated in the Arab country. His reading and writing abilities in Arabic are still only at a fifth-grade level.

Two weeks ago, President Obama announced that his administration would stop deporting young illegal immigrants who match the criteria of the Dream Act.

Though Khalid says it's an improvement, he still feels bitter and distrustful toward the U.S. government.

"At times I wished I were a drug dealer or something, just so I would understand in some way the consequences and what happened to me," he said. "But I don't understand and so as a result I still have this bitterness."

Recently, at a mutual friend's wedding, we connected with Khalid via Skype. For a moment, we saw his blurry face on the screen. He smiled, taking in the reception and speeches.

Then, just as quickly, the connection was lost. He was gone.

khalid shudooh

Here's Khalid studying in kindergarten.

khalid shudooh

Khalid said attitudes toward his family began to change when he was in middle school. 

khalid shudooh

After Khalid's freshman year at the University of Cincinnati, he was deported. 

khalid shudooh

Khalid recently graduated college and works in real estate. He says he misses the U.S. but also feels bitter toward the system. 

See more photos of Khalid growing up >

Meet 6 illegal immigrants who are still living in the USA >

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