Political activist Rasmea Odeh a symbol of deportation’s many faces

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Rasmea Odeh speaks at a rally for her at O’Hare Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Rasmea Odeh was deported Tuesday.

The 70-year-old Palestinian immigrant, whose U.S. citizenship was revoked by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not disclosing having served time as a prisoner in Israel, didn’t cry until the end, only after ICE refused her huge crowd of supporters entry into the airport.

Before that, Odeh was staunchly defiant, the etched lines of her set countenance only occasionally twitching during a three-hour O’Hare Airport send-off for the political activist who became symbolic of a cause — Palestine liberation — her case gaining notoriety worldwide.

“Up until this very moment, I didn’t believe they will throw me out of the place I’ve spent over 23 years, separate me from the people whom I love and they love me,” she said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“How can I express how I am feeling? I don’t want to understand that this is my last day in the U.S. I don’t want to believe that,” she said.

Odeh has waged a four-year legal battle to stay in the U.S. since her immigration case began in October 2013. She was indicted for failing to disclose she was convicted in 1969 of participating in a deadly terrorist bombing in Jerusalem, served 10 years, and was released in a prisoner exchange in 1979.

Odeh and her supporters have maintained her confession was a false one extracted under torture. Her conviction for immigration fraud in U.S. District Court was overturned on appeal, with a new trial set for May 2017.

In April, seeing the writing on the wall from the new administration’s crackdown, she entered into a plea agreement to give up the citizenship she’s held since 2004.

Her battle had become a cause celebre among Palestinians and Arab supporters here and abroad and members of the organization Jewish Voices for Peace, hatching the hashtag #Justice4Rasmea.

“For the past month, I haven’t been able to sleep at night, just crying all the time,” Odeh said, chatting as she packed to head for the airport and a plane bound for Jordan, where she has no home or family.

“Jordan was not my choice. It was the passport they said they will give me when I get to the airport,” she said. “I used to have people in Jordan, but it’s been years. I don’t know who’s there, what’s there. I’ll have to find and make a place for myself in my community, which is not easy at my age, rebuilding a life at 70 years old?”

Rasmea Odeh is hugged by Tariq Mohamed at O’Hare Airport on Tuesday. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Rasmea Odeh is hugged by Tariq Mohamed at O’Hare Airport on Tuesday. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Odeh wasn’t interested in rehashing the facts of her case on Tuesday.

“What’s the point?” she said. “This is unjust, inhuman. I feel for every immigrant that will go through this in America. No words for this pain.”

Odeh is just one face of the Trump administration’s tougher stance on illegal immigration, a crackdown that has played out in high profile cases such as that of 67-year-old Berwyn grandmother Genoveva Ramirez, ordered to leave by October due to an expired visa.

Ramirez and several other immigrants similarly facing immediate deportation have filed lawsuits against ICE, advocates announced Tuesday. But it is too late for Odeh, who has lived in the U.S. 23 years.

Last month, a standing room only crowd of over 1,200 supporters attended a North Side event honoring her, keynoted by Angela Davis, the scholar and Black Liberation Movement legend who cut short her vacation to attend.

Rasmea Odeh visits with friends at O’’Hare Airport on Tuesday. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Rasmea Odeh visits with friends at O’’Hare Airport on Tuesday. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

“I got my first visa in 1988, my green card in 1994, my citizenship in 2004. In all those years, I’ve been a good citizen. I’ve helped my community,” Odeh said. “It’s why I feel angry. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

She was accompanied by about 100 of her family, closest friends and supporters at O’Hare, who held a two-hour rally outside the International Terminal — as police and federal marshals stood by — followed by hugs and many tears. Intending to see her to the security line, they were blocked at the terminal’s entry. It’s when Odeh cried.

Marshals then took Odeh away from the handful of folks who were accompanying her on the flight to Jordan, processed her and brought her back out. Accompanied by the marshals and police, she then checked in her mountain of suitcases for her flight.

One marshal stayed close. He would be accompanying her on the flight, ensuring she reached Jordan. And when all was said and done, Odeh took one last look at the U.S., held her head up high, and walked through security.

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