Iranian woman, freed from jail, is home again

Mother and daughter, 11, are reunited in Carrboro

Staff WriterMarch 8, 2007 

— In the car ride to the jail, Leila thought of all the fun things she and her mom could do together again.

Write stories. Paint. Watch movies, such as the "First Wives Club" DVD they popped in Tuesday night once they got home.

The 11-year-old's mother, Sima Fallahi, was released from the Mecklenburg County jail Tuesday afternoon.

Fallahi, a native of Iran, had been held there for three months after she had applied for a business permit at the Chapel Hill Police Department to sell her art. She was taken into custody after a background check found she had not renewed her 1985 student visa.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security asked the Department of Justice to reopen Fallahi's case.

On Tuesday, Leila rode to Charlotte with Bob Wright -- who, with Kathleen Barton, cared for her while Fallahi was in jail.

When Fallahi was released about 1:30 p.m., she and her daughter gave each other a hug. They posed for a picture, then hopped in the car to head back to Carrboro.

During the ride, Leila caught her mother up on school and the music she was listening to -- Akon, Kelly Clarkson, Lily Allen -- even though they had talked on the phone every night before bed and Leila had visited her mother every Sunday.

Fallahi is seeking political asylum. Her lawyers, Raleigh-based immigration lawyers Jorgelina Araneda and Randall Stroud, say a former attorney advised their client to skip an asylum hearing in August 2001.

Fallahi fears that, if she is deported, she will be imprisoned or even killed by Muslim fundamentalists for having had a child out-of-wedlock, especially with a non-Muslim.

Now, mother and daughter are trying to get on with the lives disrupted three months ago.

On Wednesday, Fallahi woke at 5 a.m. -- the time she had gotten used to eating breakfast in jail. She stayed in bed until Leila woke up.

She fixed some fruit for her daughter. Then, they walked to school.

It was like every other weekday morning at first. But on Wednesday some teachers stopped their cars in the middle of the road to get out and give her a hug, Fallahi said.

"They were crying," she said.

At 2:30 p.m. Fallahi walked back to Carrboro Elementary School to pick up Leila. The two would make chelo kabobs, a traditional Iranian dish of ground beef kabobs served with white rice.

This week is going to be their mother-daughter week -- their "fun week," Leila calls it. They'll eat at their favorite Chinese restaurant, Gourmet Kingdom, on East Main Street. And they'll watch lots of movies.

"Next week, it's going to be back to normal," Leila said.

Staff writer Meiling Arounnarath can be reached at 932-2004 or meiling.arounnarath@newsobserver.com.

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