Florida student Youssef Megahed was arrested by federal immigration agents in April just three days after a jury acquitted him on federal explosives charges. He now faces deportation on the same charges. But this time, he won’t be tried by a jury of his peers, but by an immigration judge. Youssef Megahed speaks to us from prison in a Democracy Now! exclusive. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Today we bring you the story of Youssef Megahed, twenty-three-year-old University of South Florida student, permanent legal resident here in the United States with his — has lived here with his family since he was eleven years old.
Two years ago, he and another man were driving in South Carolina, when they were pulled over for speeding. Police found something in the trunk they described as explosives. Youssef Megahed’s co-defendant, Ahmed Mohamed, said they were homemade fireworks. Prosecutors pointed to an online video by Mohamed, said to show how to convert a toy into an explosives detonator.
Facing thirty years behind bars, Mohamed took a plea agreement and is now serving fifteen years. Youssef Megahed pleaded not guilty. The trial against him lasted two-and-a-half weeks, drew thirty-six witnesses and more than a hundred pieces of evidence. After deliberating for twenty-one hours, the federal jury agreed with Youssef’s defense: he was an unwitting passenger, completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
Three days later, despite being found not guilty, immigration officials re-arrested Youssef in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store where he had gone shopping with his dad. The charges? Strikingly similar to the ones on which he had just been completely acquitted. Is this double jeopardy, which forbids a defendant from being tried twice for the same crime?
Well, after his re-arrest, the St. Petersburg Times published an editorial that read in part, quote, “While federal officials say double jeopardy does not apply…that, at least to Megahed and his family, is a difference without a distinction. What is the basis for holding him and challenging his residency if the acts that brought him to the government’s attention have been found guiltless by a jury?” the St. Petersburg Times asked.
Well, here’s the real twist in the story. Today, three days before Youssef’s immigration trial, where a judge will decide whether or not to deport him, the rest of his family — his mom, his dad, his sister and two brothers — are being granted US citizenship.
In a few minutes, we’ll be joined by Youssef’s father, his lawyer and a juror in the criminal trial against him, who’s speaking out in his support. But first, we go to Youssef Megahed himself, in his own words.
In this Democracy Now! exclusive, Youssef called us from the prison where he’s being held. Listen carefully, because he’s speaking to us from detention, where he’s jailed with close to a hundred men. It’s noisy. This is Youssef Megahed.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe for us where you are, Youssef?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I’m at a place called Glades County Detention Center, which is the local sheriff’s jail in Moore Haven, Florida.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is your situation now?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I am waiting to go to trial on next Monday, August the 17th, while the government said it needs one week to prove its case and that then I’ll either be allowed to stay here in the US or be deported back to my country, Egypt. I have a legal permanent resident card, which is also known as the green card.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what happened to you, why you are again in detention?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: It’s for the same reasons I’ve been arrested, too, like the government has not given us anything new regarding, say, myself, like nothing new was given to me. It was the same allegations that I went through in the federal court and got acquitted of. I got re-arrested again on the same charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what happened three days later? Can you describe your feeling the day that the acquittal was announced, the “not guilty” verdicts were announced? And then move on to what happened three days later.
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I was very happy that I got [inaudible] on both charges. Then, three days later, I was with my father in a local Wal-Mart store, but when I — when we went outside to the parking back to the car, like immigration officers, three cars, came and arrested me, like they told me that “You’re under arrest,” and they took me in a car. Then we left to a local place where immigration holds its people in Tampa. Then they moved me down here to Moore Haven in twenty-four hours.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are your thoughts about being re-arrested on charges that you were acquitted of?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I was never expecting such a thing to happen. I was totally shocked and surprised. Like, it was exactly the same allegations here that were the same allegations that I had been through in the federal court attempt.
AMY GOODMAN: Your family is getting full American citizenship?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I think, yeah, actually, this week.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are your thoughts about the same government that is giving them citizenship attempting to deport you?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: It seems like this is the same god, the same family, that strangely they’re getting citizenship, and now I’m here facing deportation back to my country, Egypt. Weird. So strange.
AMY GOODMAN: Youssef, why do you think the US government is attempting to deport you?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: Like, to do some action based on my arrest, which happened in August 2007, because I went to trial and won the case, beating the charges. So it would look like the government [inaudible] which was not like just a mistaken arrest.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain why did the police pick you up, when you were originally picked up in the car?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I think it was racial profiling. Like the expressions the arresting officer gave, I think it was racial profiling.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you move to the United States, Youssef?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I think I was twelve or eleven.
AMY GOODMAN: And you went to the University of South Florida?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: Yes, the one in Tampa.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you studying?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I was studying a bachelor of science of chemical engineering.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were your plans, until your arrest?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I was trying like to finish my education and maybe get a job or going to higher education, like a Master’s or so.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever expect to find yourself in this situation?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: No, I never had any encounters with police enforcement, and it never came to my mind to expect that such a thing could happen.
AMY GOODMAN: If you are deported to Egypt, what will you do there?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I’ll try to like join the local university and finish my studies and go on with my life.
AMY GOODMAN: What would it mean to you to no longer be in the United States with your family?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: It will be a separation which will be like hard for me to [inaudible] for my family. And I think the education system is different back in Egypt, like it will be a different setting back in Egypt than the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think President Obama has changed the situation for Muslims in America? I mean, he was just in Egypt. He was just in Cairo giving a major address about the situation for Muslims in the United States and around the world.
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: I heard the speech, but it was just a speech and talk. Like, there was no physical or visible action on the ground, like it was just a speech.
AMY GOODMAN: What message do you have for people in the United States?
YOUSSEF MEGAHED: That I’m an innocent man who has been [inaudible] in the United States, based on baseless allegations by the US government.
AMY GOODMAN: Youssef Megahed. Thank you for bearing with us. I know the sound was difficult, but he was speaking to us from the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, Florida. He’s detained there with close to a hundred men.