Egyptian teenager who skipped flight home seeks U.S. asylum

Written By kolimtiga on Sabtu, 27 September 2014 | 12.56

An Egyptian teenager who refused to return home following an international high school science fair staged five months ago has filed for U.S. political asylum.

Abdullah Assem was 17 when he skipped a flight to Cairo on May 18 at the conclusion of the weeklong Intel International Science and Engineering Fair at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Assem was convinced he would be jailed again for anti-government postings on Facebook once his flight landed in Egypt. He had been jailed in April for his political comments and released in time for the science fair only because of widespread Egyptian publicity over his arrest.

"In case I get back to Egypt, my future will be in jail, considering that I am threatened all the time to be detained," he said after his April 25 arrest as he walked to a downtown Cairo electronics store to buy parts for his science project.

Now 18, Assem was accompanied by certified immigration law specialist Valerie Curtis-Diop during a two-hour-long interview Thursday with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum office in Anaheim. Because of the notoriety of Assem's defection, the hearing officer's recommendation will be automatically reviewed by Immigration officials in Washington once it's issued.

Because Assem's passport was turned over to the Egyptian Consulate when he skipped the flight home, he has no identification card and cannot enroll in college classes that he'd hoped to now be taking.

He's lived with family friends in the Los Angeles area since May, moving from place to place.

"I want to stay in this country and go to college. My category will be computer science and development. I'm planning to make products in Web development for start-up companies," he said after the closed-door Anaheim hearing.

Assem was one of 1,787 competitors in the Intel competition, which awarded about $5 million in scholarships and prizes. His project was the design of an eye-tracking device that allows quadriplegics to control a computer by moving a mouse with their eyes so they can play games and send messages to friends.

"It worked," he said — although he came away from the contest empty-handed because he was forced to use handwritten notes and posters to explain to judges how his project worked.

Assem's family supports his decision to attempt to stay in the United States. He said his brother has also been threatened with arrest and jail for "expressing his opinion."

Curtis-Diop said she agreed to represent Assem for free after another of her clients expressed concern that the young man was getting bad legal advice from others. "Hopefully it was given with good intentions, but it was not wise advice," she said.

She said the hearing officer "seemed sympathetic and would like to give us a decision as soon as possible."
Twitter: @BobsLAtimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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