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Downtown Circle Owner Faces Deportation Sunday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said Tuesday he isn’t giving up on efforts to prevent the deportation of the owner of Downtown Circle Convenience and Deli, even as he acknowledged the situation “looks bleak.”

Amer Adi Othman, better known locally as Al Adi, was informed in September by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that his appeals over 23 years had been exhausted and he was to prepare for deportation.

Othman asserts that he is a citizen of the United States and plans to fight even after he is deported from the country Sunday. He addressed supporters and reporters from Youngstown and Cleveland in the hookah bar attached to the store.

“I strongly believe that I belong here and I am free and I have to be here,” he said. “This is my town and my country and I’m a U.S. citizen, even though [President] Trump says, ‘No.’ ”

Adi moved to the United States from Amann, Jordan, at age 19 and settled in San Diego in 1979, according to a statement he issued Tuesday morning. He met a woman there and they got married, and he received his green card. That marriage soon ended in divorce and he moved to Youngstown in 1980, where he met and married his current wife, Fidaa Musleh, to whom he has been married for 29 years. She came to the United States in 1970.

The couple lived abroad for three years, and upon their return Adi’s green card was confiscated. A new one Musleh applied for on his behalf was refused based on a bureaucratic finding that the first marriage was fraudulent, said David Leopold, a Cleveland attorney representing Adi.

That finding came after immigration officials went to Adi’s first wife at 5 a.m. one morning and had her sign an affidavit they had prepared, Leopold said.

“They never gave him a chance, never informed him,” Leopold said. “They never had a judge look at it, never gave him an opportunity to cross examine anybody.” In a second affidavit, Adi’s former spouse attested to the validity of the marriage but federal officials refused to interview her or talk to people familiar with the marriage.

In 2013, Ryan, D-13 Ohio, introduced legislation that requested Adi’s removal from the deportation list and granting of legal status. In the past, the Department of Homeland Security had a policy of not deporting people who are the subjects of pending legislation. That policy changed under the Trump administration.

“It shows how heartless the policies coming out of this White House are when they actually get applied and hit the road here in the United States in communities like Youngstown,” Ryan said. “To rip this family apart is about as mean-spirited and heartless as you can get. It’s shameful.”

Ryan said Monday he has contacted DHS to “try to bring some resolution to this in a positive way” for Adi and his family.

“We’re not giving up just yet,” Ryan said, although he quickly acknowledged, “It looks bleak at this point.”

Adi said his hope is that Congress acts on the bill Ryan submitted.

“We have exhausted all appeals. We have exhausted everything,” Adi said. Regardless, he will continue to fight to return even after he is deported.

Since 1994 Adi has operated several businesses in the area, including Downtown Circle, 116 W. Federal St., which he opened in 2011. He expanded to open the hookah bar in 2015, and in 2016 purchased the former Pig Iron Press building to expand his operations further.

“I’ve had people that worked for me who were pregnant, their kids work for me now,” Adi remarked.

“It’s a tragedy. Anytime a person is taken away from their family, it’s a tragedy,” said Musleh, with whom Adi has four daughters. The couple’s daughters will continue to operate the downtown shop, while Musleh follows her husband.

Al Adi with his daughters Lena, Lana and Raina. Adi’s four daughters – his eldest daughter Haneen isn’t pictured – will run Downtown Circle after his deportation Sunday.

Supporters praised Adi and decried the deportation.

“It seems absurd to me,” said Julia Aromatorio of Youngstown, who was among those at Downtown Circle Tuesday morning.

Aromatorio said Adi’s oldest daughter, Haneen, is her closest friend, adding the businessman has been “a second dad” to her.

“He’s been nothing but an asset to this community,” she said. Anyone who thinks this action “is making America great again is absolutely out of their minds,” she added, a pointed shot at Trump.

“It’s a travesty,” said Nancy Marsh-McGarry of Liberty. She pointed to the merchant’s generosity, noting the free meals he hosts at Thanksgiving.

“The man has never done anything wrong. He’s done nothing but help the community,” Ghassan Musleh of Canfield, his brother-in-law, said.

Among others who lamented Adi’s situation were Mayor Tito Brown and Phil Kidd, downtown resident and activist and co-founder of Downtown Youngstown Partnership, an advocacy group for the central business district.

“He’s been such a great asset to this community,” said Brown, interviewed at City Hall. “That will be a loss.”

Adi’s business has been “an important part of downtown’s revival,” Kidd said. “It’s an unfortunate situation for not only he and his family but also Youngstown.”

Pictured: Downtown Circle owner Al Adi spoke with supporters and reporters Tuesday at his store.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.