Awad v. U.S. Dep't of State

Decision Date12 March 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19 C 10,19 C 10
PartiesMOHSEN SALEH AWAD, Plaintiff, v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Judge Virginia M. Kendall


The Plaintiff in this case previously held a United States passport in the name of Mohsen Saleh Awad. That, he says, is his name. But the Department of State believes otherwise. In 2012, at a United States Consulate in Yemen, Awad's daughter signed a statement attesting that Mohsen Saleh Awad was a fake name that the Plaintiff had used to immigrate to the United States. Relying on this statement, the Department of State revoked Awad's passport.

Awad requested a hearing regarding the revocation. At that hearing, he testified that Mohsen Saleh Awad was his name, and his daughter testified that she had given her statement under duress. The hearing officer found that the testimony of Awad and his daughter was not credible and instead credited the agent who had taken the statement and who testified that he had not threatened or restrained Awad's daughter. The Department accepted the hearing officer's determination and upheld the revocation.

Awad then filed the present action, seeking review of the Department's revocation of his passport. Prior to filing any dispositive motions, Awad moved for a preliminary injunction ordering the Department to issue him an interim passport pending resolution of the case. (Dkt. 20). Because Awad has not shown a likelihood of success in this case, his motion is denied.


Plaintiff Mohsen Saleh Awad previously held a United States passport, which he obtained after naturalizing. On July 5, 2017, Awad received a letter from the Department of State notifying him that his U.S. passport had been revoked pursuant to 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(a)(2), which provides that the Department of State may revoke a passport if it "was illegally, fraudulently or erroneously obtained." (Dkt. 19-1 at 101). The letter stated that Awad's daughter, Zuhour Attaf Saleh Kurwash, had provided a sworn statement detailing that Awad's true identity was that of Attaf Saleh Kurwash. (Id.). Zuhour's statement, in pertinent part, stated:

My true and correct name is Zuhour Attaf Saleh KURWASH. . . . My father, Attaf Saleh KURWASH, immigrated to the United States under the assumed name Mohsen Saleh AWAD. My father filed an immigrant visa petition on my behalf under the fake/assumed name Zuhour Mohsen Saleh AWADH. . . . I lied to the Consular Officer during my visa interview, claiming that my true name was Zuhour Mohsen Saleh AWADH.

(Id. at 16). The Department of State therefore determined that Awad made false statements of material fact in obtaining a passport using the name Mohsen Saleh Awad, and it revoked his passport pursuant to 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(a)(2).

As he was entitled to do, Awad requested a hearing on the revocation. See 22 C.F.R. § 51.70. A hearing officer held a hearing on September 27, 2017. (Dkt. 19-1at 88). At the hearing, Awad argued that he had not misrepresented his real identity, and that his daughter had been forced to attest as much under duress. (Id. at 126).

Awad testified at the hearing. He stated that his name was Mohsen Saleh Awad and he had never gone by the name of Attaf Saleh. (Id. at 127, 129, 131). He stated that his wife's previous husband, who is deceased, was named Attaf Saleh. (Id. at 128, 130). Counsel for the Department confronted Awad with certain pieces of evidence. She showed him his application for naturalization, in which he had noted that he wanted to change his name to Ataf Saleh Awad but had then crossed it out. (Id. at 85, 129). Counsel for the Department asked him why he had wanted to change his name, and he responded, through the interpreter, "Because he has legal rights to change his name." (Id. at 130).

Counsel for the Department also noted that in various immigration applications, Awad had been inconsistent on whether he had adopted children. In a 1990 application for naturalization, Awad listed that he had only three children (his biological children), but later filed a petition in support of his adopted son, which noted that he had adopted his three stepchildren in 1989. (Id. at 86-87, 130-131). In response, Awad stated that he had relied on his lawyer to submit his materials and that he didn't list his adopted children "because he could not bring them all at one time. It was too much for him." (Id. at 131). Awad testified inconsistently at the hearing as to whether he had in fact adopted his stepchildren. (Id. at 129-30).

Awad's daughter, Zuhour, also testified at the hearing. (Id. at 132). Zuhour testified that she signed the statement at the U.S. Consulate in Sana'a, Yemen. ( 132). She testified that she arrived at the embassy at 8:00 a.m. and the waiting room was full. (Id. at 132). She was the last person seen that day, and when she was the only person left in the waiting room, she asked the cleaning staff to call someone for her. (Id. at 132). Someone came to get her, and she was taken to a "very scary room with all these armed people." (Id. at 132-33). She was then led to a small room and was there alone with men, which is not allowed in her tradition and religion. (Id. at 133). She was told that the "counsel" there was very mad at her. (Id. at 133). The counsel insisted that her father had changed his name, although Zuhour stated that she had only known her father by one name. (Id. at 133). She was told that if she did not confess, she would not be allowed to go to the United States. (Id. at 133). She then asked to be let out of the room and was let out. (Id. at 133). She returned to the waiting room, where a Yemeni man told her that the "counselor is very mad at you" and that she had to confess and say what he wanted. (Id. at 133). The Yemeni man told her not to be afraid for her father and brother because they were U.S. citizens and "nobody can come close to them." (Id. at 133). Zuhour testified that she believed the people at the consulate would kill her if she did not say what they wanted and so she signed the statement just so that she could leave. (Id. at 133).

On cross-examination, Zuhour told counsel for the Department that no one had told her that she could not leave the waiting room, but she chose not to leave because she was alone and was scared and confused. (Id. at 135). She stated that, at some point, once she had been taken into the interview room, she told the interviewer that she did not know the information about her father, and that they should just call him,but when she tried to leave, the Yemeni man grabbed her and had her sit down again. (Id. at 136). When counsel for the Department asked Zuhour if the American interviewer threatened her, she said no, that the only threat he made was that she would not be able to travel to the U.S. (Id. at 135).

The Department of State called Agent David Howell as its witness via phone. (Id. at 137). Agent Howell was the Assistant Field Security Officer for Investigations in Sana'a at that time and was the person who interviewed Zuhour. (Id. at 137). Agent Howell primarily investigated fraud cases. (Id. at 137). When doing so, he relied on interviews rather than documents because it was easy to fraudulently obtain documents in Yemen. (Id. at 138). Agent Howell had only a basic recollection of his interview with Zuhour but remembered her because he interviewed few women and did not often interview a person regarding another subject. (Id. at 138, 141). Agent Howell did not recall Zuhour being visibly upset during the interview. (Id. at 141). For Zuhour's interview, Agent Howell worked with another agent named Mohammed who served as a translator between English and Arabic. He knew that he worked with Mohammed that day because he had reviewed Zuhour's statement and recognized Mohammed's signature. (Id. at 139-40).

Agent Howell testified that he had general procedures that he followed in every interview. (Id. at 138). Once he had interviewed someone, he would escort the interviewee back to the waiting room while he drafted a statement. (Id. at 141). He would then bring the interviewee back to the interview room and go over the statement inboth English and Arabic. (Id. at 141). If the interviewee agreed with the statement, the interviewee would sign and fingerprint it. (Id. at 141-42).

Agent Howell testified that there was one armed marine who you had to pass by before entering the interview room, but you could generally not see the marine's sidearm as he is positioned behind a glass window that cuts off above his waist. (Id. at 139). The interview room did not have windows, but it was air conditioned and had water and soft drinks. (Id. at 140). Agent Howell testified that when people no longer wanted to talk, they were permitted to leave the interview room and the interview would be terminated. (Id. at 141). In his role, he never detained or arrested people nor threatened to do so. (Id. at 140). He did not threaten anyone that if they did not sign a statement he would deny their visa and stated that, in fact, it was not within his authority to grant a visa. (Id. at 143).

After the hearing, the hearing officer recommended that the Department uphold the decision to revoke Awad's passport. (Id. at 88). In his written recommendation, the officer began by noting that Zuhour's statement that her father had used an assumed identity in the United States, if reliable, was sufficient evidence to support revoking Awad's passport. (Id. at 92). The hearing officer determined that the statement was in fact reliable. In doing so, the officer credited Agent Howell's testimony over that of Zuhour. Given Agent Howell's testimony, the officer determined that Zuhour had not faced multiple armed people nor had she been threatened with cancellation of her visa. (Id. at 93). The officer also found Zuhour's claims that she feared for her life and was held in the consulate not to be credible. (Dkt Id. at...

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