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Mom trying to keep child from being deported

ParvMohamedi tears up as she reads sShivan's prisletters. | Denise Crosby ~ Sun-Times Media

Parvin Mohamedi tears up as she reads son Shivan's prison letters. | Denise Crosby ~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 2, 2013 6:39AM

Parvin Mohamedi’s husband Arde had a premonition he would not live to see his 5-month-old son grow much bigger.

“Promise me you will take care of Shivan,” the Kurdish rebel told his 19-year-old wife two weeks before he was killed by an Iranian assassin while the family was living in a Northern Iraq military camp.

Twenty years later, Mohamedi is still trying to do that. But it’s not been an easy road for the Aurora mom who arrived in this area with the help of World Relief in September of 1997.

Her son Shivan Zeynali, now 20, sits in Stateville Correctional Facility facing seven years behind bars for breaking into a Naperville home last year with two friends and stealing an iPod. One accomplice was not charged, the second will likely get out of prison shortly for boot camp. But because Shivan is not an American citizen, he’s ineligible for boot camp. And the immigration hold means that after serving his sentence he could be deported back to Iran, his parents’ homeland.

“He was not born there, he has no family there, he doesn’t speak the language,” says his mother. “There are no records of his birth in Iraq” because of the Kurdish uprising going on. “So how can they deport my son when there’s no country to go back to?”

Turbulent history

Mohamedi’s chaotic past, if nothing else, has given her a quiet but steely resolve to deal with the challenges she now faces with her son.

While “just surviving” in the military camp, Mohamedi married again — her new husband adopting Shivan and giving her a daughter, Shilan. But after arriving in America, she left this “emotionally and physically abusive relationship.” And for eight months, she lived with her children in DuPage domestic violence shelters that not only provided refuge but valuable mentoring to help her reach success in this new country.

And she seemed to be doing just that. Unquestionably bright and hard-working, Mohamedi holds down two jobs — in retail and as a translator — mastered English, acquired 23 hours of college credit, and in 2005, purchased a home on Aurora’s far East Side.

Her children also seemed destined for success. Shilan, now 17, is an honors student at Waubonsie Valley High School with plans to become a lawyer. Shivan, three years older, was social and popular, and excelled in football, track and wrestling.

But things quickly fell apart for her son his sophomore year after tearing his ACL and injuring his hand. Diagnosed with ADHD at age 7, Shivan’s grades took a dramatic drop when he no longer had sports to keep him motivated. He was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression and was hospitalized after becoming suicidal.

Shivan Zeynali also began smoking marijuana and hanging out with the wrong crowd, said Mohamedi. Then, in June of 2012, he and two friends broke into a Naperville home occupied by a woman and her teenaged child. According to Mohamedi, her son got scared as soon as he crossed the patio and drove off, leaving the other two in the house.

“I did something really stupid tonight,” he told his mom when he arrived home that night.

“After hearing the story,” Mohamedi said, “I told him to go to bed and wait because the police will be coming.”

A few hours later, authorities did, indeed, knock on her door. And on July 26, a Will County judge sentenced Shivan Zeynali to seven years in prison, a plea his lawyer agreed to because it came with a recommendation for boot camp after serving 30 to 90 days in Stateville.

But on Aug. 8, Oak Brook attorney Scott Brower learned that because there was an immigration hold on the young man, boot camp was off the table.

“If I would have known about it, we would never have entered that plea,” said Brower, who then filed a motion to vacate the plea and amend the charges for a sentence more in line with a first-time offense for a young offender.

Mohamedi is also receiving help from attorney Jeffrey Frank, who bucked the odds by getting boot camp for Sebastian Sankiewicz, the 24-year-old Russian who made headlines last year after a fake bomb threat during the Chicago NATO summit.

After four months in boot camp, Sankiewicz was deported back to Russia, a best-case scenario, said Frank, because he has family there and knows the language.

Frank is not sure why the Cook County judge agreed to go easy on Sankiewicz, and despite success with this high-profile case, he describes Shivan Zeynali’s chances for a similar boot camp deal as “a long shot.” Countless stories of young men being deported to countries where they have no family or don’t speak the language are happening daily, he pointed out.

Deportation for Shivan is less likely, however, because the United States has no diplomatic relationship with Iran, according to the attorneys.

And that’s one piece of good news for Mohamedi, who beats herself up because she did not pursue citizenship for her family. Lack of time and money, she added, are not excuses.

Mohamedi won’t be allowed to visit her son in prison for a couple of months, but has received letters from him accepting responsibility for his actions and begging for help. After his arrest and before he was imprisoned, she said he’d been making great strides with his mental health treatment, had a job and was even pursuing his passion for music.

“I want my son out,” she said, emotions taking over as she shuffled his letters. “He is what kept me going after his father died. He is the pillar of my life and I would give my own life to save him.”

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