Cracking Down on Immigrants—Again

As Ashcroft Pushes Harsh Laws in Congress, a Pakistani Student From New York Is Beaten While in INS Custody

Though not yet in a final version, the draft legislation defines terrorism so broadly, says Butterfield, that throwing a rock through a window could fall into the category. It also expands the government's ability to use secret evidence in deportation hearings—even as various courts around the country have been ruling that deporting someone for reasons he or she cannot know, and thus cannot defend against, is unjust.

Those caught up in what Butterfield calls the "never-never land of immigration detention" are already denied any legal protections that belong to citizens. Though they have a right to an attorney, for instance, that right is not guaranteed, as it is in criminal proceedings, so the state does not supply counsel. Even those lucky enough to have funds to hire an attorney, or to be among the small percentage served by the many pro bono organizations around the country, are now allegedly finding their access impeded.

Lawyers in Texas, New Jersey, Ohio, Minnesota, and elsewhere have complained of being turned away when they attempted to visit clients in the week following September 11. (Non-attorney visits were reportedly limited as well. Sister Pietrina Raccuglia of Cabrini Immigrant Services in New York reports that the Sunday services attended by some 75 detainees at the Varick Street INS facility in Manhattan were abruptly and indefinitely suspended by INS officials in the wake of the attacks.) INS spokesperson Karen Kraushaar says that there was "absolutely no directive" from Washington to limit anyone's access after the twin towers attacks; she insists that the agency's regular policy, which allows registered attorneys to visit during posted hours, was maintained.

Detention’s "never-never land": This 22-year-old, who fled Iraq to avoid military service, has been in INS custody since July 1999.
photo: Steve Rubin
Detention’s "never-never land": This 22-year-old, who fled Iraq to avoid military service, has been in INS custody since July 1999.

Reports from other detention centers—including the facility near Newark airport in Elizabeth, New Jersey—suggest that Arab and Muslim detainees were separated from the general population after September 11 for their own protection. Again, Kraushaar says there was no national order for such segregation. Authorities in Elizabeth did not return calls requesting comment.

Clearly nobody thought about protecting Hasnain when he was locked in a cell full of criminal inmates in Mississippi. Still so traumatized from the battering that he requested his last name not be used, Hasnain was found to have overstayed his visa when border patrol agents raided his bus early on Wednesday morning in Mobile, Alabama. He had left his home in Karachi two years ago with a tourist visa, he says, "to escape the violence there."

Living with friends of the family in Coney Island, he completed Hillcrest High School and then took a year of courses at Queensborough Community College. He was looking forward to transferring to La Guardia, where he planned to major in computer information systems. "I love New York, the pace of it," he says. "And there are so many opportunities there."

But instead of returning to classes, Hasnain was handcuffed, thrown in a van with six Mexicans, and taken directly to jail in Mississippi. When he went to a pay phone to call his aunt, the first inmate came up and punched him in the face, breaking his front tooth. "Then another man joined him, and they were both holding me down and hitting me," he says. "Somehow I managed to reach a bell that was in the dorm. I pressed the button, and a lady's voice came on the speaker. I begged her, 'Please, I'm getting beaten up. Please, help me.' They were banging my head on the bars and hammering me, and my ear began to bleed. I told them I had nothing to do with Bin Laden, but they said, 'Too bad. You're Pakistani. That's close enough.' I thought I was going to die."

Hasnain estimates the assault lasted some 25 minutes, though he says it's hard to gauge because he went in and out of consciousness. When some guards finally arrived, he says, "They just stood there. They did not run up to me or try to end it." Hasnain wriggled free and ran to them. He asked to go to a hospital. They took him to the prison nurse, who gave him an ice pack and two Motrin tablets. Then he was moved to a chilly cell in solitary, where after repeated requests he was given a sheet.

Meanwhile, his aunt Erum (who also requested that her last name be withheld), was waiting anxiously in New Orleans. Hasnain had been allowed to call her from Mobile, where he was told he'd be taken to the INS regional headquarters in the Louisiana city. Erum had contacted a lawyer, scraped together the $5000 bond that had been set, and grabbed the first flight from Houston. Once in New Orleans, she was told by an INS official that Hasnain was being held in Wiggins and would be brought to Louisiana in the morning. But when he did not arrive on Thursday, she called the Mississippi jail, where an officer told her he'd "had a little schoolyard fight."

That day, the INS told her it would take a few days to bring his file west, so they couldn't promise when he'd arrive. She rented a car and drove nearly three hours to Wiggins. At the jail, a guard told her if she wanted to see her nephew she'd have to come back on visiting day—Sunday. "I begged him," she says, "but he said he'd lose his job if he let me in. I wrote a note, and crying, I begged him to give it to Hasnain." She drove back to New Orleans and waited.

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