A Clemson University scholar from Syria sat in a Charlotte jail on Tuesday while her husband scrambled to find a legal path to keep her in the country.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Tharwat Alasadi, 28, on Monday as part of an ongoing investigation, said spokesman Ivan Ortiz, who declined further comment.
Alasadi, a Fulbright scholar, taught Arabic and enrolled in graduate classes at Clemson while in the country on a student visa, said David Grigsby, vice provost for international affairs at Clemson.
Her program ended June 9, he said.
Clemson doctoral candidate Taiyo Davis said he and Alasadi fell in love and married during her stay, which has lasted about two years.
Two agents showed up at their Central apartment on Monday and took away Alasadi in handcuffs, Davis said. She was being held at the Mecklenburg County jail, according to inmate records.
Alasadi's student visa, also known as a J-1, expired in May and she was supposed to return to Syria for two years, Davis said. But Alasadi has applied to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a hardship waiver that would allow her to remain in the United States, he said.
"We're working with the government," Davis said "We want to do this legally."
Greenville immigration attorney Scott Pfeiffer said that international exchange students often have to return to their home for two years before being allowed back into the United States. That's because the students have received training on skills the U.S. State Department has deemed critical to their home countries, or the government has paid for their visas, he said.
"The alien can receive a waiver of the requirement," he said. "But it requires the home country to agree, and the process can be time-consuming."
Davis said that Alasadi has a letter from the Syrian government saying it doesn't object to her remaining in the United States.
They expect it could be another two months before she gets a judgment on the waiver application, he said.
Kevin Bishop, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, declined to comment, citing a 1974 law that he said prohibits him from discussing the case without written authorization from the constituent.
Earl DeLapp, vice president of the Arabic Language Club at Clemson, said Alasadi was "a very gentle, patient and creative person," who was highly involved with the club.
At the beginning she was shy, but by the end of the first semester she adopted the campus custom of wearing orange on Fridays, DeLapp said.
Alasadi invited club members to visit her home, where she taught them Syrian songs and how to cook traditional Syrian foods in her own kitchen, DeLapp said.
"She was a very good cook, too," he said.
Greenville immigration attorney Nathalie Morgan said those jailed on immigration violations should be able to request bond. Those who are married to U.S. citizens and have no criminal record usually are granted one, Morgan said.
They then typically get a date to appear before an immigration judge, she said.
Davis, a U.S. citizen born abroad, said Alasadi grabbed his attention shortly after she moved to Clemson by talking to him in Japanese, which was the first language he learned to speak. The relationship developed, he said, as he taught her English and she taught him Arabic.
"I guess you could call that our date — it was an educational date," he said.
Clemson junior Abbie Tremblay, one of Alasadi's language students, said she will attend classes at the University of Jordan this year in part because of her instructor's encouragement.
"She was one of the most helpful teachers I've had at Clemson so far," Tremblay said. "She was always available outside of class. She wanted us to understand the language and enjoy the culture of the Middle East."
Davis, who is pursuing his doctorate in history, said he doesn't want to move to Syria because he's defending his thesis. He said he's also concerned about moving to a country where Hezbollah has a public presence.
But Davis said he'll do what it takes.
"If they deport her to Syria and I have to go to Syria and live as a peasant with a graduate degree, I'll do it because I love her," Davis said. "I don't care. I'll live as a peasant, gladly."