A federal judge ordered him deported, and he's eager to leave. So Sameeh Hammoudeh and his attorney can't understand why he's still in an immigration jail cell.
Hammoudeh and his family hoped to leave the United States today to begin a new life in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Hammoudeh grew up. Now his attorney thinks his departure could be a week or two away.
On Dec. 6, Hammoudeh, a former University of South Florida graduate student, was cleared of the 10 terror-support charges against him as one of Sami Al-Arian's co-defendants. Hammoudeh and his wife, Nadia, had been ordered deported in June after pleading guilty to unrelated fraud charges.
He has been in a Bradenton detention cell in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His travel papers are in order, attorney Stephen Bernstein said, but ICE officials are holding up Hammoudeh's release.
No one at the agency can explain the delay.
"Everything that they have asked for, we have cooperated and given," Bernstein said Tuesday. He is considering filing a motion demanding his client's immediate deportation.
An ICE spokeswoman in Tampa referred questions to the agency's detention and removal officials in Bradenton. They could not be reached for comment.
U.S. District Judge James Moody signed Hammoudeh's deportation order June 3. Bernstein thinks ICE does not know how to handle the order from a U.S. district court judge. Most deportations are ordered by immigration court judges.
"I can't help them solve that problem," Bernstein said. "It's a one-sided conversation, and they're not talking to me."
Hammoudeh and Al-Arian have been jailed without bail since their indictments Feb. 20, 2003. Prosecutors say the men were part of a North American cell for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for more than 100 deaths in attacks in Israel and the occupied territories.
Prosecutors described Hammoudeh as Al-Arian's closest confidant and a salaried Islamic Jihad member. Jurors have said they believe money he sent from the United States to the occupied territories went to charity.
Bernstein got nowhere trying to win his client's release on bail after the verdict.
The family owns a bookstore in Ramallah, Bernstein said, and his client might return to work at a Palestinian research center.
The Hammoudehs' children will stay with their parents, the attorney said. They have been separated from their father for three years.
"When he gets deported, he's going to be free," Bernstein said. "We're fine with that."