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Police, Prosecutors Advocate for Lebanese Immigrant Who Helped Crack a Murder Case

bay 5451New Jersey police and prosecutors are standing up for Charbel Chehoud, a 40 year-old Lebanese immigrant facing imminent deportation, saying that his help in solving a murder case was crucial and should entitle him to remain in the United States. Federal immigration officials do not agree, arguing that Chehoud has physically resisted previous deportation efforts, the New York Daily News reports. Chehoud, who is engaged to a U.S. citizen, is detained at the Essex County Jail and is currently awaiting an appeal.

Chehoud helped law enforcement solve the 1999 murder of Michael Augulis, who drowned on a fishing trip when two men, who knew he could not swim, threw him into Sandy Hook Bay. The case was originally ruled an accident. Chehoud had no involvement in the incident and did not know the victim. In 2006, one of the men who had been on the boat, a former co-worker of Chehoud, told Chehoud what had happened. According to Chehoud, the people on the boat that day had “sworn to secrecy,” but the man had to get it off his chest. Chehoud went to police with the information, who proceeded to arrest the two men. They pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Had Chehoud not come forward, police say, the case would have remained an “accident.”

Chehoud was born in Lebanon and moved to Germany when he was five years old. He came to the United States in 1989. Once here, he applied for asylum for fear of religious-based persecution (Chehoud is a Christian) and married a U.S. citizen. Chehoud’s marriage ended before he could obtain legal permanent residence. A judge ruled against his asylum claim and ordered him deported. Law enforcement officials in Monmouth County involved in the Augulis murder case have come forward to ask immigration officials not to deport him. Police in Jersey City have requested a witness visa for Chehoud. Chehoud’s attorney has asked for Chehoud’s release so he may finalize his divorce and marry his fiancee. He has an appeal pending, but that will not stop immigration officials from deporting him if they decide to.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents allege that Chehoud has physically resisted deportation on five separate occasions. They describe his conduct as “physically and verbally disruptive.” ICE’s policy is to prioritize deportation of people who “obstruct immigration controls.” An ICE spokesman claims Chehoud assaulted an ICE officer last week. Chehoud argues that deportation would be the end of his chances to stay here, saying that “you can’t fight it from the outside.”

A small number of people may receive visas for acting as a witness in a criminal prosecution. The government may issue up to 200 S-5 visas if a person supplies material information to assist a case and the Attorney General determines that the person’s presence in the U.S. is necessary for the success of the prosecution. Immigration officials also have discretion as to whom they deport and when they do so. The Obama administration’s policy, broadly stated, is to prioritize deportation of violent criminals and people posing a clear threat to national security, and to de-prioritize people who have lived here a long time and have families or other deep roots.

The New Jersey immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, PC help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (201) 587-9200.

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Photo credit: bay 5451 by Nesster, on Flickr.