Fighting the Tide

Claiming Special Circumstances, a Family Battles Deportation

He describes being beaten during a 15-day imprisonment, along with 25 other MQM members, after police raided his home. He decided immediately after that to leave the country.

The family applied for political asylum when they arrived in the U.S. in 1995, they claim in their immigration filings. They say that they handed over key documents, including original ethnic newspaper clippings naming Shabi as an MQM member, to an immigration lawyer named Charles A. Grutman. They never heard how their asylum application turned out. Last year, Grutman was prosecuted in federal court for stealing government money and was suspended from practicing law for seven years, according to the U.S. Executive Office for Immigration Review.

After Shabi was arrested in December, the family hired a second lawyer on borrowed money to fight the detention. But that lawyer failed to mention in legal papers Shabi's fears of political persecution or the previous counsel's criminal prosecution and suspension—the family's two strongest arguments for winning their case. Advocates say many immigrants become victims of fraudulent or incompetent counsel, given their limited English and ignorance of the U.S. legal system.

So when a week passed without word from her husband, Razia could only assume the worst. Then news suddenly arrived during her interview with a reporter. Another detainee at the Hudson County jail in New Jersey, where Shabi was last heard from, was calling to say her husband had been shipped off to Buffalo, in upstate New York. Buffalo, explained the community advocates in the room, is a way station for Pakistani detainees who are about to be flown out of the country. Razia broke into tears, covering her mouth with a napkin.

"His life is in danger over there," she said, imagining her husband's return to Pakistan. She could never support three children alone in New York, she said, so they would all have to leave if her husband left, even though the two youngest, ages five and six, had never set foot on Pakistani soil.

But Shabi had not been deported yet, the advocates hastened to point out. Razia's six-year-old daughter, who had been told her father was traveling on business, gave her mother a smile and kissed her cheek. That afternoon, the rush to stop Shabi's looming deportation kicked into emergency gear.

The family contacted the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, where a pro bono lawyer filed an emergency motion to stay deportation based on political concerns and poor legal representation in the past. Mark Thorn, spokesman for the New York area Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would not comment on Shabi's chances. Thorn said, "It's policy not to discuss the status of any case that is before a court." In theory, someone cannot be deported until his motion is considered.

As of press time, the afternoon of Monday, March 17, Shabi was still in Buffalo. Razia and the children were still in Queens.

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