Cleric testifies at deportation hearing

June 2, 2008 2:41:37 PM PDT
The Muslim religious leader of one of New Jersey's largest mosques has begun testifying at his own immigration hearing.Mohammad Qatanani is speaking to the court about his childhood and growing up poor in a Palestinian refugee camp. He says he wanted to be a mosque leader since he was six years old, following in the footsteps of his father.

Qatanani has been the leader, or imam, of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson since 1996, when he came to the U.S. on a work visa.

Now the U.S. government wants to deport him after rejecting his bid for permanent residency. Immigration officials say he didn't list a prior arrest and conviction in Israel on his application.

Qatanani says he wasn't arrested - only detained - by Israelis in 1993, and that it was routine at the time.