Cracking Down on Immigrants—Again

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

Around 11 p.m., Hasnain was permitted to call his aunt, but he sounded strange to her: He called Erum by her first name instead of by the honorifics Pakistanis typically use for their elders, and remained silent when she asked if he'd been in a fight. But that, it turns out, was one of the conditions under which Hasnain was allowed to phone her at all: He was instructed that he must speak English, that the call would be made on a speakerphone with several guards present, and that if he mentioned being beaten, they'd hang up at once. (Hasnain's attorney, Mary Howell, has called for an investigation of the attack as a hate crime. The FBI in New Orleans made preliminary inquiries, and the investigation, says Howell, has been turned over to a local assistant U.S. attorney, Jack Lacy. Lacy says he cannot comment on a pending investigation—and that by saying so, he neither confirms nor denies that such an investigation is taking place. Major Charles Gardner of the Stone County Correctional Facility declined comment. Local INS authorities said they could not comment on any particular case.)

It wasn't until Friday at almost 2 p.m. that officers came to take Hasnain to New Orleans, where he was released on bond and his immigration hearing set for October 25. Howell worries that Hasnain may be deported before a criminal prosecution can be completed—and that the Mexican witnesses may be deported as well. Meanwhile, a possible civil suit is in the works.

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.

Complaints of mistreatment of recent INS detainees are being voiced by advocates around the country. Texas attorney Paul Zoltan notes that a Saudi national he is representing was put in a county jail where for days he was denied a mattress, a blanket, and a drinking cup. Because he was not allowed access to a timepiece of any kind, the client, a Muslim, could not know when it was time to pray. (Zoltan emphasizes that the fault is with the county jail—which he declined to name out of concern for his client's safety—and not with the INS itself. Still, critics have long objected to the lack of oversight the agency exercises when it farms out detainees to so many jails.)

In Minnesota, an Egyptian national taken in on a visa violation two weeks ago was taunted so relentlessly by other detainees that he refused meals rather than face them. As his U.S.-citizen wife, Eman Abdelall, puts it, "Of all the names in the world, his would have to be Ossama." It took a week of begging—and a story in the local press—before he was moved to a separate unit.

But his attorney, Audrey Carr, wonders why he was detained at all. Abdelall's infringement is one of those technicalities for which, under normal circumstances, the INS would not pursue him, says Carr. She surmises that he's being held only because he's Egyptian, even though there are no allegations that he has any ties to any terrorist groups. Carr says that INS functionaries have unofficially told her as much.

Anecdotes like these, charging that detainees from the Middle East are not to be released under any circumstances, are pouring into attorney associations, but the INS's Kraushaar insists there is no basis to them. "Rumors don't help this situation," she says. "Yes, we are on heightened alert, but there is no directive to change the case-by-case basis on which bonds are set."

Even so, the situation troubles advocates like attorney Niels Frenzen, who represented Iraqi nationals in a notorious case in which the government used secret evidence. "The existing laws that allow for deportation or removal of anyone suspected of being a terrorist are perfectly adequate," he says. "What these laws really do is give the government a way to go after people against whom they have no evidence whatsoever of criminal culpability. That means going after them because of their nationality, religion, or race. And that is terrifying."

The INS's Kraushaar rejects this reasoning. "We are not the gestapo," she says. "This is the United States, where liberty and freedom are prized. We are not about to round people up on the basis of national origin." There are no plans to require all nationals of particular states to report to INS offices for fingerprinting and photographs—as was required of Iranian nationals during the Iran hostage crisis, Kraushaar says. And even though the Justice Department has among its many seemingly far-fetched contingency plans a Reagan-era protocol for mass detention and deportation, even the anxious advocates are not invoking the specter of internment camps. "I wouldn't want to paint the current legislation as pointing that way," says AILA's Butterfield. "But given our shameful history and some of the contingency plans I've seen, I think we have to be very watchful."

As for Hasnain, he's staying with his aunt in Houston for a while and will maybe pick up his studies at La Guardia next semester. He can't really say. "I'm very, very afraid now," he says. "I'm not sure what to do." He had been planning to take advantage of the new changes coming about in immigration policy to regularize his status. "I heard there were some new laws coming up," he says. "I was hoping to be part of them."

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