An Afghan woman who was under investigation for filing a false asylum claim was found dead last month in an apparent suicide. Gulalay Bahawdory, 60, grew up in Afghanistan and lived in Europe before coming to the United States and applying for asylum in 2000.
In her asylum application, Ms. Bahawdory apparently used a fake name. Her husband, Bashir Bahawdory, also a former refugee from Afghanistan, states that she left the United States before receiving a decision in her case. But ICE says that her case was denied and she was ordered removed from the U.S. in April 2001. Both the husband and ICE could be correct: Perhaps she left before a decision was reached, and then an IJ ordered her removed in absentia.
In 2004, Ms. Bahawdory returned to the United States based on a marriage petition filed by her husband. She became a U.S. citizen in 2009.
Ms. Bahawdory lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. It sounds like she had a good life there with her husband and her adult step children, who thought of her as a best friend.
For some reason, ICE began investigating her case earlier this year. After the investigation began, Ms. Bahawdory thought of little else, her husband said. She feared that if she were deported to Afghanistan, she would be harmed or killed by the Taliban or other extremists.
According to an ICE spokesperson, “Mrs. Bahawdory’s prior removal from the United States was discovered when ICE ran the fingerprints she provided for the spousal petition.” ICE did not say when or why they checked the fingerprints or why it only began investigating her citizenship this year. Also, no word on why this discrepancy was not discovered earlier. (After all, what’s the point of taking fingerprints if they don’t reveal issues like this at the time of the application?)
Last month, Ms. Bahawdory’s body was found in a lake in north Raleigh. Police found her car nearby. In the car, there were three notes. One was to her husband, stating that she loved him and knew what she had done was wrong. She wrote a second note to her attorney, thanking her for doing what she could to help. The third letter was left for the Raleigh police. “I love the United States,” Ms. Bahawdory wrote. “God bless the United States.”
Whatever the cause of death, this is clearly a tragic case. If, as it appears, Ms. Bahawdory committed suicide for fear of deportation to Afghanistan, her death is doubly tragic. For one thing, having already attained U.S. citizenship, it is not easy for the U.S. government to revoke that citizenship. Remember John Demjanjuk? He was a naturalized U.S. citizen who was convicted of accessory to murder of 27,900 Jews during World War II. Despite his horrific crimes, it took over 30 years to finally de-naturalize and deport him. If it took 30 years for a criminal like Mr. Demjanjuk, how long would it have taken for Ms. Bahawdory?
Also, even if her citizenship were revoked, Ms. Bahawdory had several defenses to removal: She could have sought asylum (or lesser forms of humanitarian relief like Withholding of Removal or Torture Convention relief); She might have been eligible for a waiver for the immigration fraud; She might have been eligible for Cancellation of Removal. In addition, even if she were denied all relief, she could have asked for deferral of removal based on humanitarian grounds. She certainly would have presented a sympathetic case given her age, her home country, her family ties to the U.S., and (as far as I know) her otherwise clean record.
I can certainly understand why someone–especially a woman from a country like Afghanistan–would feel tremendous stress if she felt she would be deported to her homeland. But Ms. Bahawdory was a long way from being deported. If she really did commit suicide because she feared deportation, this is a tragedy that should never have happened.