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American Muslim

Oakland Tribune July 2, 2003

Immigration tears family apart

Bay Area teens talk about their treatment by US Immigration authorities

By Sean Holstege

Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - Bay Area teens Hassan and Ahmad Amin, and their mother Tahira Manzur are the brave ones, their advocates say.

On Tuesday, they spoke publicly about their treatment at the hands of U.S. immigration authorities. Thousands of other South Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants have experienced the same treatment in silence and anonymity, according to critics of immigration policies since Sept. 11, 2001.

When the government required all immigrants from Pakistan to voluntarily register at an immigration office in March, Hassan, 19, and Ahmad, 17, didn't think twice. They had been living in San Jose since 1998, attending school or playing football, and an attorney had advised the family they were here legally.

The attorney, it turned out, had overlooked a technicality in the Byzantine immigration laws. Hassan was fingerprinted and sent to a holding cell in Yuba City, 128 miles northeast from his home.

"My first husband died, I divorced my second and I've separated from my third. This was the worst experience of my life, to see my son behind bars for nothing. Nothing was worse," said Manzur, who came to the United States in 1973.

Imram Moghal, her first son by a previous marriage, who was born in the United States and is a citizen, bailed his stepbrother out of jail for $4,000 after one day.

"I was kept in a cell with the criminals," Hassan said.

The Amin brothers, who say they feel more American than Pakistani, worry they have no future in the country of their birth. For now, all they can do is wait to see what happens in immigration court.

"With the deportation process, my family will be separated again. I don't know what the future holds for me," said Hassan, a De Anza College student. "I will have wasted years at college."

Ahmad said he has to skip school once every three weeks to sign a form at the immigration office declaring he remains in the country.

Technically, the Amin brothers are "out of status," in violation of the immigration laws. They face deportation hearings Thursday and later this month because their visas have expired.

"I can't comment on the specifics of the Amin brothers," said Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Sharon Rummery, "but generally people who come to this country are not immigrants, they are temporary visitors to our land."

"If you're out of status, then you've broken the law. You are not legally in the United States if your visa has expired," said Rummery, whose agency was transformed by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in March.

She pointed out that visitors are only considered legal immigrants if they apply to be permanent resident aliens. Typically, they need to be sponsored by a family member or an employer, or gain asylum by convincing authorities they are fleeing persecution in their native country.

The Amin brothers applied for a green card four years ago, but the process is slow; Rummery said it can take 12 years. In the meantime, special registration caught up to them, as it has for an estimated 13,000 Muslim men and boys who have been deported since Dec. 10.

Samina Faheem of Palo Alto has set up a national hot line to help.

"Special registration has created havoc in my community. Honest, hard-working people have been treated as common criminals," Faheem said. "I get calls from concerned parents who are terrified when they don't hear from their children."

It took Faheem six months to persuade Manzur and her sons to come forward. Manzur said she knows a dozen Bay Area families who just left the country.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union used their experience to call for an end of special registration and congressional oversight of the nation's immigration practices. Last month, an internal Justice Department audit of post-9/11 detentions in the New York area concluded that hundreds of innocent Middle Eastern and Muslim men were held in secret in "unduly harsh" conditions and denied access to lawyers.

Rummery said Congress mandated in 1996 a system to document the entry and exit of visitors and gave the immigration service until 2005 to complete it. She described special registration as the first test of that system, which will add more countries in the months ahead to the mostly Muslim nations on the list of 25.