An Egyptian student at a Southern California flight school who was facing deportation for a Facebook threat against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be allowed to leave the country voluntarily, an immigration agency spokeswoman said.
During a hearing Friday morning at U.S. Immigration Court in downtown Los Angeles, Judge Kevin Riley granted Emad Elsayed voluntary departure to return to his home country. He will be escorted by officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Virginia Kice, an agency spokeswoman.
Elsayed remains in custody and must leave the United States in 120 days, she said.
His attorney, Hani Bushra, asked the judge to grant bond, which was denied. Bushra said his client felt that he had no other option than to leave the country voluntarily. He will return to Cairo where his family lives, Bushra said.
“He made a mistake he regrets,” Bushra said. “He will regret it for a long, long time.”
Elsayed, 23, was taken into custody Feb. 12 by ICE officers for allegedly violating the terms of his admission to the United States, Kice said. Elsayed was arrested at a flight training school and is being held in an Orange County jail.
Elsayed posted an article on Facebook on Feb. 3 about Trump calling to ban all Muslims from entering the United States and the flight student included his own comment, Bushra said. In that comment, according to a court filing that sought to keep him in custody, Elsayed said he would not mind being sentenced to life in prison for killing Trump.
“You can’t make a threat against a major presidential candidate, especially when you are a guest in this country,” said Claude Arnold, retired special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. “These things get investigated and taken seriously regardless of a person’s nationality or religious background.”
Bushra said that the day after Elsayed’s post on Facebook, U.S. Secret Service agents turned up at the flight academy where Elsayed had been training to become a pilot; the school owner had reported the Facebook comment to federal authorities. The agents questioned Elsayed about the post and it was obviously not a serious comment, Bushra said, noting that he could find thousands of similar comments on social media.
Elsayed’s student visa was revoked after his flight school, Universal Air Academy in El Monte, withdrew its support for his visa, his attorney said. Without an educational institution’s backing, a student loses that immigration status and can be kicked out of the country.
Bushra said the owner of the flight school has now signed a statement saying that he is willing to reinstate Elsayed, who came to the United States last September to study for a pilot’s license and paid $41,000 in tuition, the lawyer said.
When Bushra tried to get Elsayed released from custody, the lawyer said, the government cited Elsayed’s statement about Trump as evidence that he is a danger to society and should not be released. At this point, he said, his client wants to get out of jail and get back some of his tuition money.
A federal law enforcement source who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly said that when Elsayed was interviewed by a Secret Service agent, he did not withdraw the statement.
Secret Service officials declined to comment.
There has been heightened scrutiny of U.S. flights schools since some of the 9/11 hijackers who flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attended such schools before the attacks.
Alex Khatib, owner of Universal Air Academy, told the Associated Press that federal agents detained Elsayed and federal officials asked him to “terminate paperwork from the school that made the student eligible to study for a pilot’s license.”
Los Angeles Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this post.