The government’s bid to strip U.S. citizenship from the worship leader of Portland’s biggest mosque is a rarity.

It’s such a rare move that when Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye recently reached out to the downtown firm of Nelson Smith Immigration Law, lawyers acknowledged they had never handled a revocation of naturalization case.

Immigration lawyers Philip Smith and Nicole Nelson represent Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye. 

In fact, when they reached out to other immigration lawyers, they found that none of them had ever handled one either, said Nicole Nelson, whose firm represents Kariye, the imam of Masjed As-Saber in Southwest Portland.

Justice Department lawyers filed a civil complaint Monday that accuses Kariye of repeatedly misrepresenting himself – name, age, travels, association with Islamic groups, arrest record, and experiences as a mujahideen guerrilla in the Soviet-Afghan War – to acquire U.S. citizenship in August 1998.

For those reasons, they allege, the 53-year-old native Somali lacks the moral fitness to remain a citizen.

“I believe the goal is to deport him,” Nelson said in an interview Tuesday with The Oregonian/OregonLive.

She has learned that some foreign-born Americans facing revocation of their naturalization have simply signed away their citizenship. But Kariye won’t be one of them. Nelson said she’ll file an answer to the government’s allegations by Sept. 18.

She remains baffled by the Justice Department’s timing.

Twelve years have passed since Kariye pleaded guilty to obtaining a Social Security card by fraud and underreporting his income to obtain state health care benefits. By then, he had already become a naturalized citizen, and the government could have made its play to revoke his citizenship at that time.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything new,” said Nelson, who will fight the case with partner Philip Smith.

Agents of the FBI and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement investigated Kariye’s travels and associations, discovering that he had direct dealings with Osama bin Laden during the war in Afghanistan and an Islamic group, Maktab Al-Khidamat, which the U.S. now describes as a defunct terrorist organization.

Kariye is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that accuses the FBI and its Terrorist Screening Center of violating the constitutional rights of several people placed on the U.S. no-fly list.

Nelson hopes that Kariye’s case to maintain his citizenship can be consolidated into the no-fly case because of an “overlap of factual findings.”

— Bryan Denson

[email protected]

503-294-7614; @Bryan_Denson

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