NY Protest Against Detention Of Immigrants

From News India Times

2 February 2002.

by Priya Malhotra

New York ---- Uzma Naheed said she never could imagine being treated like this in America. Standing in front of a crowd of over 100 people at New York's Union Square, the Pakistan-born Naheed looked anguished, but was strikingly confident as she narrated her story during a protest of the detention of immigrants after last year's terrorist attack.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a community organization, claims that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have detained over 1,200 immigrants, mainly of South Asian and Arab origin, since September 11. So, on Jan. 21, the birthday of the father of the civil rights movementMartin Luther King, Jr.DRUM, the Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants, the Prison Moratorium Project and others rallied against the detentions, calling them the "worst kind of racial profiling."

Naheed said that on October 3, 2001, FBI and INS officials searched her home in New Jersey and threatened to arrest her. When she asked why, they allegedly told her it was because her brother, who had been arrested a few days earlier, and she lived in the same house.

As Naheed had recently had a baby, her truck driver husband, Anser Mehmood, told them to arrest him instead. The federal officials took him away, allegedly saying he would be home in three or four days, Naheed claimed.

More than three months later, Mehmood, who has lived in the United States for ten years, has still not returned home. Naheed insisted that she does not even know the charges against him. She did, however, admit that the family had overstayed its visasan offense for which people were not actively apprehended before Sept.11, according to Neil Weinrib, a New York-based immigration attorney. He added that after Sept. 11, some people were being detained without charges.

After the terror attacks last year, the US government cracked down on immigrants, detaining those it believed potential terrorists or linked to terrorists. A passing suspicion, however, is often all it takes to hold an immigrant. Civil rights activists have argued that judgments are frequently based on racial profiling, adding that there is no public information about the detainees. Of the total number of detainees, DRUM estimates that over 500 are of Pakistani origin.

At the Union Square subway station, protesters held up placards that said, "We're all Immigrants, End Detentions Now" and "Don't Deport My Daddy."

At the following news conference, DRUM Director Monami Maulik said most detainees were being held for immigration violations like overstaying their visas, which would have been ignored prior to Sept. 11.

DRUM has called for the release of all detainees being held for immigration breaches. The group, whose workers have been periodically visiting the detainees, has asked for a complete list of those held and demanded that the detainees have full access to legal information and representation.

Activists at the rally said many detainees were without legal counsel. "We need lawyers to do pro bono and low-cost work for the INS detainees," said MacDonald Scott, a legal worker with the National Lawyers Guild.

The INS is not compelled to ensure legal assistance for detainees, according to Weinrib. Kerry Gill, INS spokesperson of the Newark, NJ branch, however, told News India Times, "When people come into our custody, we provide lists of free legal service providers."

From Union Square the protesters went to Passaic County Jail in New Jersey, which has the largest number detainees. "About 250 are currently in the Passaic County Jail and about half of them are Muslim," said Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale outside the facility, where security had been beefed up in anticipation of the protest.


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