St. Louis-area native in deportation, custody battle in Oman

Friday, June 1, 2007
St. Louis-area native Khadijah Heather Jones posed with her three children, Zakaria, front left, Amani, front right, and Yusef, held by his mother, in this undated photo provided by the family Thursday. (Family photo)

As the American ex-wife of an Omani, relatives are concerned the deck may be stacked against her.

ST. LOUIS -- For two years, American-born Khadijah Heather Jones has fought a custody battle in Oman. Now, with the custody hearing in the Middle Eastern country less than a week away, she faces deportation before she can make her case.

And she knows if that happens, she may never see her children again.

"It's just going to crush my heart and soul if the police take my kids away," Jones said in a phone interview.

The custody hearing is Wednesday. But when Jones was fired from her telecommunications job earlier this month, she was ordered to leave the country by Monday.

She's hired four lawyers and sought help from the State Department, the American Embassy in Oman and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Still, as the American ex-wife of an Omani, relatives are concerned the deck may be stacked against her.

"I feel like I'm living a real-life movie, a horrible movie," Jones said.

Jones grew up in the St. Louis suburb Hazelwood. She said she converted from Catholicism to Islam when she was 18.

She first met Omani-born Jamal Mohammed Al Balushi while teaching in Oman in early 1993, and they married that December, settling in Oman. Their children -- sons Zakaria, 12, and Yusef, 5, and daughter Amani, 9 -- were born in Oman and have lived their entire lives there.

Until three years ago, Jones said, the marriage was a happy one. Both worked at the same telecommunications company in Muscat, Oman's capital, and spent virtually all of their time together.

That changed in 2004 when her husband went to the United Kingdom to work on a master's degree. It was the first time they were separated, and Jones said she felt a sense of freedom. But her husband took it differently.

"I think it was hard for him to understand I could be independent from him," she said.

In 2005, Jones took her children for an extended visit in Missouri. The trouble began when they returned to Oman. The same day they got back, Jones said, her husband took the children, their birth certificates and other documents, asked for a divorce and moved in with relatives.

A telephone listing for Al Balushi could not be found.

It took Jones nearly three months, but a court eventually gave her custody. Fearing retribution, Jones said she and the children have spent the last two years moving from the home of one friend to another. She frequently changes cell phone numbers -- seven times in one month.

Jones' mother, Cyndi Jones, said Al Balushi has much working in his favor in the custody battle.

"He has a lot of connections," Cyndi Jones said. "His uncle has the newspaper in Oman. He knows a lot of people in powerful capacities."

A spokesman for the State Department said there is little the U.S. government can do because Americans living overseas are subject to the laws of the land where they reside. Calls to the Omani Embassy were not returned. Jones said the American Embassy in Oman gave her a list of lawyers and promised to speak on her behalf to the Omani government.

McCaskill spokeswoman Maria Speiser said the senator sent a letter last week to the American Embassy in Muscat, "asking that they look very close in the case and do everything in their power to help the situation."

Jones and her four attorneys are trying to get her deportation hearing pushed back after the custody hearing. Her latest ploy: She was given notice May 13 that her job was terminated, but she's filed a legal dispute, claiming her contract requires at least one month of notice. She hopes the legal proceeding buys precious time.

"If I'm out of the country, I'll never be able to come back to Oman," Jones said. "I'm doing everything any American would to try and keep her children.

"I just want to be with my children."

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