Arabic teacher jailed over visa

Tharwat Alasadi

COLUMBIA — Federal immigration officials were holding a Syrian woman for overstaying her visa while she taught Arabic at Clemson University on a Fulbright program, and her husband said he is fighting to allow her to stay with him in America.

Tharwat Alasadi, 29, was taken in handcuffs from their apartment Monday and jailed in North Carolina, her husband Taiyo Davis said Wednesday. She was sent to the Mecklenburg County jail in Charlotte, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

Davis, an American citizen and a Clemson graduate student in history, said his wife had been in the country about two years on a Fulbright program that required her to return to Syria when her visa expired in May.

"If we made an honest mistake in the paperwork, we want to fix it," Davis, 32, said in a telephone interview. "We want to do this legally."

They married in January and in March they applied for a waiver to allow her to remain in the United States. The Syrian government sent them a letter that said it did not object to her remaining in the United States, Davis said.

He said he was meeting with an attorney to determine what to do next and that it was possible his wife might be released on bond.

A spokesman for ICE said Wednesday that Alasadi's arrest was part of an ongoing investigation.

"She was found to be in violation of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. I cannot comment further because the case is part of an ongoing investigation," ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz said.

David Grigsby, vice provost for international affairs at Clemson, said Alasadi was a foreign language teaching assistant in Arabic who was in the country on a visa that required her to return to Syria for two years.

"She was at Clemson as a non-student language instructor. She was not a formal Clemson student," said Grigsby, adding that her program was organized through the Fulbright program and the Institute of International Education. A phone call to the institute's spokesman was not returned.

Grigsby said Clemson did not sponsor her visa. University officials met with her several times about her status, he added.

"We told her we couldn't extend her stay," Grigsby said.