Tasting the food that Suzi Hazahza cooked for him on that first Thursday in November, Reza Barkhordari couldn’t have been more joyful. He went to Suzi’s house every night after work, to sit with her whole family. And each night, the wedding drew a day closer.
“We met at a local Middle Eastern coffee shop in Richardson, Texas called the Al-Afrah,” recalls Reza over the telephone. “That’s where I saw her for the first time, and it was instant connection. It was so strong that Suzi’s mother noticed and helped in connecting the two of us. Shortly after that Suzi and I both realized it was something that was meant to be, and we would be spending our whole lives together. That was on August 6, 2005.”
“I proposed to her on August 6, 2006, our first anniversary. My mother encouraged me to do it, and she sent a diamond ring to Suzi. We were to be married over the Christmas holidays.”
In preparation for the wedding, Reza invited the Hazahza family to move closer to his home in Plano, where it would be easier to keep everyone in daily contact. On the first Monday in November, they were to close on a home in Frisco. What American dream could have seemed more complete?
The first Friday of November, however, found Reza driving to the Dallas offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in search of the love of his life. Suzi and her entire family had been rounded up at gunpoint.
There was father Radi, a 60-year-old refugee from Palestine — a proud provider who had seen better days as a banker in Jordan — now working as a state-certified car inspector. And mother Juma, the one who had steered her daughter toward love, and who shared Suzi’s delicate preferences for freshly-cooked food.
There was sister Mirvat, a 24-year-old newlywed who still lived at home because the religious rites for her marriage had not been completed. She had graduated with honors from North Lake Community College and was running the office of a local insurance agent.
There was brother Hisham, a 23-year-old sales whiz and prized manager for a cell phone company who was moving rapidly from management into ownership, on the verge of opening his own store. And there were younger brothers Ahmad and Mohammad, ages 17 and 11.
Like two other Palestinian families in Dallas, all of them had been rousted from bed at gunpoint and marched out the door in their bedclothes. They were locked away, Reza was told. He could not see Suzi on Friday.
On Saturday, Reza drove again to Dallas ICE, hoping to see Suzi and her family. But no, that was impossible. Then on Sunday ICE gave Reza a little hope. Suzi had been moved to the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Haskell, Texas along with her two oldest brothers, her sister, and her father. Visiting hours lasted until 4:00 pm. If Reza could get there before 4:00, said ICE, then he could see Suzi.
Reza headed West in his car, calling a friend on his cell phone to get directions as he drove into afternoon sun. It was already past noon, and he had a four-hour drive in front of him. If he went just a little bit faster, he could make it in time, and he did, pulling into the immigration jail at 3:45 pm. But it would take ten minutes to get Suzi, explained the guards. And despite Reza’s begging, they told him the visit would not be worth the trouble. Dejected, Reza drove back home.
For the next five weekends Reza planned his visits to Haskell carefully. He drove from Dallas on Friday night and visited with the Hazahza men on Saturday. Then on Sunday he met his beloved Suzi.
One week he recalls Suzi came to the meeting with a fever and cough. She explained that she tried to get medical help but without luck. So Reza made some phone calls and complained. When Suzi’s younger brother reported blood in his urine, Reza called about that, too.
After making complaints to ICE, Reza completed his fifth week of visits. He had no way of knowing that after the fifth visit, things for Suzi would suddenly get worse. She called from Haskell begging her fiance never to come see her again.
After the fifth visit from Reza, Suzi Hazahza had been subjected to a full body-cavity search.
To this day, Suzi Hazahza refuses all visitors. She will not see the love of her life, Reza. She will not see her mother Juma, recently released from the T. Don Hutto jail in Taylor, Texas. Nor will she see her baby brother Mohammad who was released with Juma. She will not risk another visitor because she is determined to never again let the guards at Haskell prison search her like that again.
New York attorneys Joshua Bardavid and Ted Cox will return to Texas next week to file federal habeas corpus motions in behalf of Suzi Hazahza and her family. The motions they filed for the Ibrahim family in early February worked very well, proving that ICE had no good reason for taking them to jail. Not only were all the Ibrahims freed from Hutto and Haskell both, but Juma and Mohammad Hazahza were also freed from Hutto, two days before a press tour there.
In the coming weeks, as a protest movement grows around the issue of children in prison, let us not forget that 20-year-old Suzi has been wrongfully imprisoned, too. To quit the terror of Suzi Hazahza, she and the rest of her family deserve to be immediately freed.
What is it like for Reza to think about Suzi these days? He takes a call from her every night. Last night he put her on the line with Juma and Mohammad in order to continue this interview.
“You have to understand, this is not your standard strip search,” explains Reza. “What they do makes her extremely uncomfortable.” And how did that chilling phone call from Suzi make him feel, when the love of his life begged him to visit no more? “I felt like I was on fire,” he says. “There’s so much pain. Just to be honest with you, I am literally sick to my stomach.”
And with each night’s phone call from Haskell to Dallas, the marriage of Reza and Suzi, the meant-to-be lovers, slips further away.
Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org