Lonely in America

Darn, you’re a Pakistani! To top it, you’re a man, 40, without a Green Card. The combo can’t get any deadlier than this in today’s jingoistic climate. Who cares if you hold a valid work permit that makes you “legal”. None will hear your cries when the US secret service come to get you. Will the good Pakistan Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi to Washington rescue you and tear your deportation orders? Or will some legal eagle bail you out? Or will the Immigration Service take pity on your plight and relent? Or will the American courts entertain your case?

None of the above.

Gone gung-ho, the Bush bullies, under the USA Patriot Act, hunger for a free passage to haul in as many Muslims as they savagely can to swell up their concentration-like camps. And then to lead them, handcuffed and in jail garb, to be kicked out of America.

Tomorrow is the D-day. The INS (Immigration Service) sharks lie in wait for their Pakistani prey come to register. There will be long open-air lines, beginning to build up by the middle of the night, in front of the INS building in Newark, New Jersey. It can snow; there can be freezing rain; the wind chill advisory can be out telling everyone to bundle up indoors. But why should America spend a sleepless night panicking about the Pakistanis out in the wide open, bang in the middle of the night? Let them grow icicles or nearly die, who can they sue? Certainly not the US government – are you kidding?

Where the blazes is Bush’s compassionate conservatism? For sure Attorney General Ashcroft’s Christian heart is not in the right place. As the overseer of INS outlets spanning America, the facilities at its abominable Newark office and the treatment meted out to immigrants would make a hostile country handling prisoners of war look benign .

The sweep of arrests, detentions and deportations of Pakistanis have gone on for many months. With hundreds rounded up, taken to secret locations, denied family or legal visitation rights and finally deported. The docile media paid scant attention and rarely raised its voice against emasculation of liberties right in its own backyard.

 More telling was the pin-drop silence from the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC and the Consulate in New York over the long hot summer. Those who came to the rescue of the unfortunate Pakistani men and their beleaguered families were local volunteer groups of Pakistani origin supported by many American religious and charitable organizations.
 Now, for the first time, Ambassador Qazi’s heart seems to bleed for Pakistanis expected to be roughed up by the INS on January 13 to February 21 when they come to get finger-printed and photographed like common criminals. Press Attaché Asad Hayauddin, like his boss, had put up a firewall with hoi polloi frozen out. He’s known for pulling rank and is called the “ultimate snob” by many Pakistanis.

 To appear politically correct before the beards who rule Pakistan back home, Ambassador Qazi and his factotums finally protested to the State Department after Pakistan was put on the list of countries whose nationals were required to register. As was expected, the Americans gave Qazi a short shrift. The stung diplomat shored up his own community’s help (something he had shunned in the past) to start a cat and mouse game with the Bush administration, issuing a veiled warning that the Americans scattered across Pakistan could face local hostility if the INS didn’t withdraw Pakistan’s name from the list. A kind of timid tit for tat, if you please.

Had the Embassy been proactive and lent a sympathetic hand to its nationals in the past, it would have avoided the bitterness and frustration that many Pakistanis have repeatedly voiced against the Ambassador and his staff. But diplomats never learn. And why should they, as long as the big boss (Musharraf in this case) is kept happy and his ego massaged.
Meanwhile Pentagon has railroaded its right to pursue fleeing Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters into Pakistan: “We do reserve the right to go after them and pursue them and that is something that Pakistan is aware of,” said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Stephen Clutter. “In hot pursuit, we’re going to chase down the bad guys.”

New Jersey based Zahid Ghani of NNI (a news agency in Pakistan) collected the mainstream media to blast Bush:”George Bush called Musharraf his friend and ally while US agencies raided Pakistani businesses and residences here and arrested scores of Pakistanis.”

Citing the hate crimes carried out by American citizens against the Muslims after 9/11, Ghani recalled the murder of his brother-in-law Waqar Hasan by Mark Anthony Stroman, 32, who confessed to Hasan’s murder claiming he killed him and another Indian and shot a Bangladeshi out of revenge for the terrorist attacks. “Waqar was slain in his Dallas convenience store, when a white man walked in around 10 p.m. ordered two hamburgers, and shot him in the cheek with a handgun.”

Ghani’s widowed sister-in-law Durreshahwar, still lives in Dallas with the couple’s four daughters and Hasan’s mother. There’s no closure for them: “My husband is gone, he is not coming back,” she says.

Heart-breaking stories of Pakistani immigrants continue to pour in. The latest story is from a Pakistani couple with kids, settled in upstate New York, who decided one weekend to drive across the border to Canada for an outing. They were stopped from returning, “but we are legal residents in the US, we have our home there and have left our computer on…our kids go to school…” they argued with the INS patrol who rudely brushed their pleas aside and stamped “Entry Denied”. Left with little choice, they returned to Pakistan, sent a power of attorney to someone in the US to dispose off their home and belongings. End of an American dream.

As I write, something happened. Without giving away more (for it’s too close to home), the front door bell rings and in come two very pleasant visitors from the local police station. One is a detective and in plain clothes while his colleague is in uniform and a sergeant. They show a press clipping which carries a story of a woman robbed by a man of “middle-eastern” origin and a typed letter by an anonymous writer who gives an address saying that there is a “similar-looking” man residing one town over who looks “dangerous” and should be interrogated. More of this another time.

On New Year’s eve, all major TV networks warned Americans to watch out for the five Pakistanis/Arabs who had slipped into the US and were wanted for questioning. Now, it turns out, that FBI was fooled by a fake tipster who cooked up the whole story. But it did deprive one Pakistani party animal looking for a good time in Manhattan on New Year’s eve: “The police in New York area is going around hotels and talking to guests with Pakistani/middle eastern sounding names. I’ll pass party reveling this time.”

But “this time” may run into years and years into decades…

Vandals have broken windows, destroyed signs and kicked in doors at the Islamic
Cultural Center and mosque in Penn state.

White supremacists and anti-immigration think-tanks with malfeasant tentacles hooked on Capitol Hill, Pentagon and the White House are displaying excessive whimsy against the “immigration invasion” with questions like “What is the point of a society that pushes racial mixing? Our society pushes mixing. This is probably not a good thing for the society.”

Welcome to the land of segregation, racial profiling and Muslim bashing!

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