Political asylum sought for blind Iraqi boy living in Snohomish

SNOHOMISH — A blind Iraqi boy who was brought to the U.S. after being shot in the face by Iraqi insurgents needs political asylum, his lawyer and family say.

A lawyer working pro bono filed a petition this month seeking asylum on behalf of Muhammed “Hammoody” Jauda, 5, who is living with a foster family in Snohomish. That will allow the boy to stay here legally while the paperwork is pending, even though his visa expired on May 16.

For his part, Hamoody said he doesn’t want to go back to Baghdad, where the Shiite boy and his family were ambushed by Sunnis three years ago.

“I want to stay because I don’t want to get shot again,” Hamoody said.

His biological parents in Baghdad wrote a letter saying that they hope that Hamoody will stay with his foster parents in Snohomish. The blind boy will have no life in Iraq, wrecked by sectarian violence, they wrote in Arabic in their letter. The letter was translated into English and was included in the asylum application.

“In America, beyond a (shadow) of doubt, the health care, the public services and the educational institutions meet the needs of the special needs people,” part of the letter reads. “In addition, the American family who are taking care of Hamoody is a great loving family treating our son as if he were their son.”

Steve Miller, a Seattle attorney working on behalf of Hamoody, filed the asylum application on May 9 based on severe past persecution and humanitarian grounds.

It could take up to six years or more before the government decides on the application, said Julie Robinett Smith, the boy’s foster mother.

She and her husband, Randy Smith, also have hired another attorney to obtain legal guardianship to continue to raise Hamoody at their Snohomish home. They are willing to pay for his education.

“Our goal for him is to be an independent man who has a good-paying job and family,” Robinett Smith said.

Hamoody has a lot of supporters, including U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Robinett Smith said.

“As Hamoody’s family and the Robinett Smiths move forward with the asylum process, I will do everything I can to help,” Larsen said in a statement.

The Iraq war has hurt many children like Hamoody, but their stories are often untold, Larsen said.

“We need to help more Iraqis displaced from their homes find refuge here, particularly Iraqi children and those who have risked their lives serving the United States.”

Everett drew many Iraqi refugees after the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, said Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest. Since then, most of them have become U.S. citizens. The city still has up to 700 Iraqis; it has yet to add refugees from the current war.

Hamoody should be allowed to stay in Snohomish County, Dinh-Kuno said.

“I don’t see how this little boy will receive education he needs” in Iraq, she said.

Hamoody was 2 when he and his family were attacked in May 2005. He was shot in the face with a shotgun. He lost his right eye; his remaining eye went blind.

A year later, Hamoody was brought to Snohomish by Healing the Children, a Spokane-based international nonprofit group that helps children get medical treatment. Since then, Hamoody has lived with the Smiths. He has received many tests and exams and has undergone two surgeries.

Originally, Hamoody was scheduled to go back to Iraq after receiving medical treatment. That changed when doctors decided that the boy will not regain his eyesight. His parents have asked the Smiths to raise their son in America.

“They love him, but they don’t want him to go back there,” Robinett Smith said. “There will be no life for him. He will be hidden away.”

The Smiths have been sending pictures of Hamoody to his family in Iraq. They hope that the family will soon set up a Web cam to talk to the boy online. Meanwhile, Hamoody has turned into an American boy who is partial to fish and chips. He no longer speaks Arabic and has learned English. He talks to his natural parents on the phone with his uncle acting as an interpreter.

Hamoody knows he will be brought back to Iraq if things don’t work out, Robinett Smith said. Still, the boy is enjoying every moment of his life, bringing joy to the Smiths.

At school, he loves recess.

“I play on a swing, that kind of stuff,” Hamoody said.

He loves water.

“I like swimming in a pool, a really deep pool, you know,” he said.

He is goofy.

“I will be an ice cream truck driver so that I can eat all the ice cream,” he said.

The idea makes Robinett Smith chuckle.

“I try to tell him that they don’t make much money,” she said “You can do it on the side.”

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com

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