Atlanta, Jan. 15: An anxiety that has gripped foreign nationals from 16 Muslim nations is spreading among students, tourists and businesspeople from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
They have until February 21 to report to the Immigration and Naturalisation Service, the latest citizens of several Muslim nations to be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed in a programme to track foreign visitors.
The prospect petrifies some who work and pay taxes but have overstayed a visa, said Rehan Khan, a businessman and former president of the Pakistani American Society of Atlanta. He said they worry “they will go to jail and be deported” and wonder why the government singles out visitors from countries whose governments have allied themselves with the US in the war on terrorism.
“They are not pointing to Mexicans or Chinese,” he said. “Why are they pointing to Pakistanis'”
In Georgia and around the US, the INS has significantly stepped up the detention and deportation of foreign nationals from Muslim nations in response to public pressure to safeguard the US from terrorists like the ones who struck on September 11, 2001. The number of people deported to Muslim countries in North Africa, the West Asia and South Asia multiplied faster than for citizens of virtually every other country, according to a Journal-Constitution computer analysis of INS records.
The new focus disrupted the routine of Carma Said of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She said the INS deported her husband to Egypt even though it had approved his request for legal residency.
“They just destroyed a whole family,” she said. “The country that I love and that I’d go fight for let me down.”
Paul Virtue, a Washington immigration lawyer and former INS general counsel, said the increased attention to Arab and Muslim immigrants makes sense. “That’s where the threat is,” he said.
Others decry a selective enforcement that they say provides only the illusion of security. They point out that no Arab or Muslim immigrant detained or deported after September 11 has been charged with a crime related to terrorism.
“The government is engaging in racial, religious and ethnic profiling. They’re not doing anything that’s making us any safer,” said Dalia Hashad, the ACLU’s advocate for West Asian and South Asian immigrants. “This is selective enforcement, and it’s ridiculous, inappropriate punishment.”
The 19 hijackers who struck on September 11, 2001, were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE. Three had overstayed visas and were in the country illegally.
The US justice department secretly detained at least 899 immigrants during the terrorism investigation, mostly from West Asian or South Asian countries. Authorities say 765 were held on immigration violations, such as overstaying a visa, and 134 were charged with some crimes unrelated to terrorism, such as credit card fraud or lying on a passport application, but advocates say the real number is closer to 1,200. Most were deported. Doris Meissner, INS commissioner from 1993 to 2000, said she doubts authorities would have deported people who threatened national security — they would have charged them as terrorists instead. She said the focus on Muslim nations “was inevitable and predictable right after 9-11, but I think it became clear pretty quickly that focusing that way was not unearthing terrorists.”
Jorge Martinez, spokesman for the justice department, disputed that.
“That a detainee has been deported from the US does not necessarily indicate that he or she had no knowledge of or connection to terrorism,” the department said.
Pakistani authorities accused a detained medical doctor and his family today of harbouring prominent members of the al Qaida network.
Deputy attorney general Sher Zaman told a court in Lahore that Ahmed Javed Khawaja and four relatives, arrested last month in the village of Manawa, had assisted some of al Qaida’s most wanted members. “It was revealed through investigation that the al Qaida’s most wanted terrorists were being harboured in Manawa by Dr Ahmed Javed Khawaja and his family,” he said.