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Pakistani-Americans Decry Unjust Treatment

Sada e Pakistan

September 28, 2001

By Mohsin Zaheer

For the past 54 years, Pakistan has been the United States' friend in need. We supported the United States during the Cold War, which ultimately led to the Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan. Most recently, Pakistan unconditionally supported the United States in the war against terrorism.

But since Sept. 11, Pakistani-Americans have been pushed up against the wall. Not dozens but hundreds of apartments, private homes, offices and other buildings in our community have been raided by different law enforcement agencies, including the F.B.I., Immigration and Naturalization Services, the New York Police Department, and in some cases the Secret Service. These arrests have not only instilled a great fear in the Pakistani community but a sense of indignation as well. Many feel it is unfair that we have been treated like criminals while our government back home has supported the United States unconditionally.

We are not the only immigrants who are staying in the United States illegally. Russians, Mexicans, Chinese, Koreans, and Indians are here as well - but only the Pakistani community has become the target of law enforcement agencies' investigations.

We feel like this is not only discrimination but our "reward" for our unconditional support of the war against terrorism.

Some 150,000 members of our community are based in Brooklyn, New York. According to a rough estimate, more than 300 Pakistanis have been detained by various agencies since Sept. 11. Most were picked up due to minor immigration violations. Some have been released but most are still in prison, waiting for bail.

These detentions and arrests have given the wrong impression to Pakistanis back in Pakistan. When they hear that their loved ones in the United States are being harassed and arrested rather than being treated well, they get worried and in some cases ask their loved ones to come back to Pakistan. Incidents like these shape up a different sort of public opinion in Pakistan.

[The above opinions are expressed not by this correspondent but by most of the members of the Pakistani community.]

The President of Pakistan recently visited New York to address the 56th session of the General Assembly. Dozens of representatives from different Pakistani-American organizations asked Gen. Musharraf to address the problems their community is facing in the United States. One of their requests included asking President George W. Bush to grant the same general amnesty for illegal Pakistanis based in the United States that he has done for some Mexicans. Gen. Musharraf discussed these issues with Bush during his meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. According to spokesman of the President of Pakistan Gen. Rashid Qureshi, Bush assured Musharraf that there would be no injustices taken against members of the Pakistani community. However, we have not yet seen evidence of this promise. Instead, several members of the Pakistani community have already been killed.

First was a 46-year-old grocer named Waqar Hassan, who was gunned down in Dallas, Texas on Sept. 15. His family believes that he was the victim of a hate crime. Two Pakistanis were killed in Coney Island just a few days later. Rafiq But, a 55-year-old father of five, died in his jail cell in Hudson County, New Jersey on Oct. 23. He was thrown behind bars for an immigration violation and was held for nearly six weeks. He died of a heart attack, but his relatives contend that he had no history of heart problems.

It is important to note that Ramzi Yousef (who bombed the World Trade Center in February of 1993) was handed over to the United States by Pakistan. Mir Aimal Kansi, who killed two CIA employees and wounded three more outside CIA headquarters in January of 1993, was also extradited by the Pakistani government and handed over to the United States. Most recently, Pakistan has become a key partner in the coalition in the war against terrorism. These three examples prove that Pakistan and the Pakistani people have always taken a stand against terrorism and are hard at work to eliminate evil all over the world.

Pakistani community leaders believe that we are a peace-loving people. Our neighborhoods in Brooklyn have some of lowest crime rates in the city, which is a testament to the fact that we are a law-abiding people. Most of us are from the working class. We drive cabs, car services, and limousines. Some of us earn our living in construction and other odd jobs. We not only strive to support our families here but back home in Pakistan as well.

There might be a few "black sheep" in our community - as in anyone else's -- but that doesn't mean we should all be treated as one.

Article written by Mohsin Zaheer for the Independent Press Association.

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