Six weeks ago, at around 9 a.m. on Aug. 17, immigration officials knocked on the door of a squat, two-tone apartment block in the Presidio. Moshe Hakim, an unassuming 56-year-old Israeli, was arrested and led away in handcuffs.
His crime? Overstaying his welcome in the United States.
At that moment, Hakim ceased to be a San Franciscan, a shopkeeper, a husband, a father of four. He became a statistic.
“There is 11 million people like us,” said Hakim’s wife, Galit, in a near whisper. “We are not the only people that is having this problem.”
Her daughter, Zohar, ever the American teen, didn’t glance up from her smartphone. “To be exact, mom,” she interrupted, “there are 12 million.”
Less than a week after Hakim was pried away from his family, the Obama administration issued a policy seemingly tailored to address him specifically. Titled “Facilitating Par-ental Interests in the Course of Civil Immigration Enforcement Act-ivities,” the directive instructs federal officials to use “prosecutorial discretion” in cases involving parents — especially the parents of American citizens. All four of Hakim’s children are minors, and three are U.S. citizens.
What’s more, his 15-year-old son, Itzhak, is severely autistic and requires 24-hour care. The boy has spent the past month screaming for his father into the wee hours.
As of Sept. 24, Hakim was incarcerated in a Yuba County jail and his family had been informed he could be deported at a moment’s notice.
Reached by phone on Sept. 23, Galit Hakim told j. that a deportation officer from Enforcement Removal Operations, part of the Department of Homeland Security, interviewed Hakim in jail on Sept. 19. She said the discussion mainly regarded the couple’s autistic son.
Galit seems ready, at any moment, to silently implode. She is attempting to parent four children, run a business and remedy her husband’s legal woes all on her own.
“All we wanted,” she said, “was a quiet life.”
Moshe and Galit, both from Jaffa, “fell in love on the phone,” she said. He was living in San Francisco and she was staying in Miami. Massive phone bills ensued, so he wired her a plane ticket to the city. Six months later they wed; their first child was born the following year. That baby is now a 17-year-old senior at Lowell High.
Moshe Hakim has spent 33 of his 56 years in the United States. But he has traveled to Israel several times since being denied re-entry to the United States in 1998 after impulsively flying off to a wedding in Israel, in spite of lawyers’ orders to avoid doing that.
“Stupid, stupid mistake,” Galit grumbled.
Mistakes have begotten mistakes. The first attorney she hired after her husband’s August arrest filed a motion that understated the tally of Hakim’s American children (he has three, not two); failed to note Itzhak’s severe condition; and, for good measure, spelled his name “Hakeem.” Her second attorney failed to return her phone calls. When asked what could keep Hakim stateside, attorney No. 3, Alison Dixon, blurted out, “a miracle.”
On Sept. 24, Dixon spoke to the immigration official who interviewed Hakim in jail. She said he sent the information he gathered “to upper management,” and that she and the family will be notified when a decision is reached.
When will that be? “It depends on the case,” she said.
Meanwhile, the family has started up a Change.org petition (www.change.org/
petitions/governmentbody-let-father-of-four-san-francisco-business-owner-stay). Dixon is also hoping someone in government can intervene.
Immigration officials, the lawyer said, seem unmoved by the recent Obama policy directive. Short of “a private bill” introduced on the federal level, she can’t fathom any remedies.
Meanwhile, his family is at wit’s end.
“Why take a father with four children and a special-needs child away from his house?” cries Galit. “He didn’t harm nobody.”
Adapted from an SF Weekly story by Joe Eskenazi. For complete version, visit www.sfweekly.com/authors/joe-eskenazi. J. staff contributed to this report.