No longer gifted or welcome Recovering: His prestigious future stolen by crime, a victim needs treatment, but faces deportation instead.

September 13, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Ali Reza came to Baltimore six years ago as a gifted biophysicist, leaving his native Bangladesh behind to study the structure of molecules and cellular neurophysiology. A college physics professor in his homeland, Reza had high hopes for the prestigious fellowship he landed at the Johns Hopkins University.

As brilliant as he was, he could have never foreseen where his life in America would lead him: brain-damaged by a beating, nearly destitute, and facing deportation from one of the few countries that can provide the medical help he needs.

"It has been very frustrating for me. In my past life, I didn't need any help," the diminutive 40-year-old man said this week, sitting in a small windowless room at the North Baltimore Center for the mentally ill, where he goes for counseling. He is barely able to walk on his own, let alone recall the complex mathematical principles of physics he once mastered.

Reza's life was changed forever when, on Sept. 22, 1990, a mysterious intruder broke into his apartment in the 4600 block of York Road and beat him into a coma with a rock. By the time he awoke four months later, doctors had removed part of the right frontal lobe of his brain.

Since then he has struggled to regain a portion of his former mental prowess, making what one doctor described as "a remarkable recovery" but nevertheless suffering irreversible mental and physical problems. He has limited strength in his right arm, loss of vision and decreased short-term memory, according to his psychological reports.

His intelligence is still such that he can speak poignantly of his problems and his struggle in "the complex world of human society."

"I just want to be able to stand on my own two feet again. For now, that is all that I can ask," he said with a smile, as he recounted his struggle to learn to walk and speak English all over again.

A social worker at the North Baltimore Center, Babette Dalsheimer, is among a handful of people who are trying to help Reza stay in the United States and find a job. His student visa expired June 30, after he made one last failed attempt to pass two required biochemistry courses in the Hopkins Ph.D. program.

"You have been extraordinarily courageous in your uphill battle. You should be extremely proud of how much you have accomplished and you should know how much we admire [your] strength and tenacity," Bertrand Garcia-Moreno, his faculty adviser, wrote to him in a letter confirming Reza's withdrawal from the university.

Without a student visa, Reza is an illegal immigrant and is subject to deportation, a reality that his social workers and pro bono attorneys have explained to him.

"Unfortunately, the immigration service will not allow you to stay in the U.S. any longer," wrote the Rev. Mark Horak, an attorney in the immigration legal services division of Catholic Charities.

Horak has asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to grant Reza an extension of his U.S. stay so that he could be eligible for more medical treatment and so that he could find a job. Under such an arrangement, Reza would not be deported but would have to leave the country voluntarily at some point in the future.

"We're not applying for residency," Horak said. "Just some more time. But the problem is that INS will not approve our request unless Reza can show he won't be eligible or dependent on public assistance if he stays here."

Benedict J. Ferro, district director for Baltimore INS, said his agency has some "discretionary authority" in granting extensions to foreigners with extraordinary circumstances. But Reza's likely dependence on public assistance is a mark against him.

No decision

"A key question is, 'Is he going to be a public charge?' " Ferro said, noting that Reza would have to show that he could support himself without public assistance. No decision has been made on his request to remain in this country.

Many who have worked with Reza in the last six years have written letters to the INS and public service departments, arguing that U.S. agencies should assume responsibility for a man injured in an American criminal act.

"It would seem that the least we, as a country, can do is to allow this gentleman the opportunity to gain back some of the quality of life that he has lost," his former psychologist, Richard E. Doty, wrote to Immigration Legal Services. "He is in need of continuing treatment that he cannot receive in his country."

But thus far, the outlook is bleak, since Reza has no financial help available to him. On Oct. 26, Maryland's Criminal Injuries Compensation Board refused his request for disability benefits, telling him his medical expenses exceed $45,000, the maximum award allowable by law.

"He's been a victim of a crime while he's a guest in our country, and now the country refuses to take any responsibility for him," said Horak, who has said that Reza has nevertheless maintained an optimistic attitude throughout the ordeal.

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