Immigration laws state very clearly that the government of the United States does not extradite people living legally within its borders from states such as Illinois to other countries unless there is evidence that they have done something wrong. Nevertheless, the current administration allegedly weighed expelling a Turkish cleric to his home country as a political maneuver in order to relieve pressure on Saudi Arabia with regard to the death of a journalist killed in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

The cleric has been living in Pennsylvania for approximately 20 years. He holds a legally obtained green card, and there is no credible evidence of him breaking the laws of either the United States or Turkey. Nevertheless, the Turkish president accuses him of terrorist activity, including a 2016 coup attempt that prompted a formal request for his extradition to the U.S. government. The cleric, who was at one time an ally of the Turkish president, denies any involvement in the coup and has dwelled in the United States under self-imposed exile since the late 1990s.

In the interest of preserving good relations with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, the White House has allegedly sought to use the cleric’s possible extradition as an incentive to offer the Turkish government in exchange for easing up its criticism of the Saudi crown prince and his possible involvement in the embassy murder. 

Allegedly, the White House requested details on the cleric’s residency status from several federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department, and directed them to look for ways of removing him from the country via legal means. Most of these agencies declined to comment on the matter to the press, but according to sources within the agencies, career officials reportedly became furious when they realized the requests were serious and pushed back against the White House. 

It is frightening to think that legal residents of the United States may become pawns in a high-stakes geopolitical game. Those with concern over their status in the United States, especially those accompanied by their family, might find it helpful to consult an immigration attorney.