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Court Orders US to Reverse Immigration Decision for Prominent Turkish Religious Leader

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International Herald Tribune

A U.S. court has ruled that the Bush administration improperly rejected a prominent Turkish religious leader’s application toward permanent residence in the United States and ordered the government to reverse the decision.

Fethullah Gulen, a Sufi scholar and educator with millions of followers across Turkey and parts of Central Asia, has been living in the United States since 1999. U.S. immigration authorities rejected his application to be classified as “an alien of extraordinary ability,” a step that would have facilitated his permanent residence.

A federal court ruled Wednesday that the decision was improper, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press that have not yet been made public. Immigration officials had argued that Gulen did not meet the qualification of extraordinary ability in his field “demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation.”

Gulen is one of Turkey’s most influential intellectuals, a scholar and preacher of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. His followers run schools in dozens of countries. In Turkey, they administer hundreds of schools, as well as six universities and a various media organizations. His media network reaches millions daily.

Gulen is revered by many but viewed with suspicion by somein the 99 percent Muslim country where secularism is enshrined in the constitution and religion has traditionally been firmly excluded from politics.

In 2006, a Turkish court acquitted him of trying to overturn Turkey’s secular regime. Prosecutors had accused him of trying to create an Islamic groundswell and of “brainwashing” school children.

Gulen’s lawyer, H. Ronald Klasko, said he did not understand the U.S. government’s argument that he did not meet the requirements.

“For whatever reason, the government has decided to fight his application,” he said. “Their arguments were very strange to me.”

The U.S. court’s decision means that Gulen can now apply for permanent residence under a more favorable category. The judge scheduled another hearing for next month and could order the government to decide on Gulen’s residency application. The government could also appeal Wednesday’s ruling.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the decision Thursday.

“We have just received the judgment and have forwarded it to the appropriate Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security officials for their review,” said Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in Philadelphia, where the case was heard.


International Herald Tribune
For the article's link, please click here. (Date accessed: 23 September 2008)