Out of Africa

Malika Oufkir, who spent decades unfairly imprisoned, just wants her son here. Why won’t our government allow it?

"He looked like a shrimp," Bordreuil jokes as he flicks through hundreds of photos of his doe-eyed baby.

The couple immediately began proceedings to become the boy's legal guardians (adoption as practiced in the West is prohibited by Islamic law). Though the process took more than six months and cost thousands of dollars, they finally moved Adam out of the orphanage.

"It was the first time in my life that I did not feel like a prisoner," beams Malika.

But no toys litter the floor of their Surfside home. And there is neither burbling laughter nor infant sobbing. The reason: This past September, at a court hearing in Marrakesh, American officials abruptly halted Malika's life-long dream. They denied Adam a visa to enter the States, citing the fact that both parents are permanent U.S. residents, not citizens.

"I was suicidal," laments Malika, who forbids any of her young son's belongings in the house.

"I tell you, we can't bear the separation," echoes Bordreuil.

But the law is clear, says immigration attorney Ira Kurzban: "A legal permanent resident does not have the same rights as a citizen." Residents must apply for a visa for adopted children. "The wait time is four and a half years."

It would take the better part of Adam's childhood to yield a result.

Today the baby resides with Malika's elderly mother in Marrakesh while the couple pursues their only other option for securing their son's imminent arrival: humanitarian parole. Decided on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, it is a mysterious contest of human suffering. Extra points are given for narrative novelty, news-media buzz, and Congressional intervention.

Of the more than 7000 requests for humanitarian parole the government has received since January 2000, officials say, only about 25 percent have been approved.

Dan McLaughlin, spokesperson for Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, whom Malika contacted about Adam's case this past October, says Senator Nelson will use his voice to help unite the family. "All we need to do is know that they filed it, and then we can try to seek an expedited decision on behalf of the State Department and hopefully a favorable decision," McLaughlin says.

Meanwhile Malika must wait — a familiar experience for her. Except now, power doesn't lie in the hands of a tyrannical monarch or abusive prison guard, but the U.S. government.

Only time will tell if the paragon of democracy shows more leniency.

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