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Yet despite these assurances, the outcome of some cases makes Mohammed Razvi worry about the safety of his own advocacy work. For an example, he pulls the file of a taxi driver who was turned in last summer by a fare. She had asked him his opinion of Bush and he replied, "He's an asshole. If I had a gun, I'd shoot him." Soon, the Secret Service turned up at the cabbie's door. Terrified, unable to afford a lawyer, he went to Razvi. "I called up the Secret ServiceI've never been that nervous," Razvi says. "They put me on speakerphone. I give them all my information and say, this guy is working, he has a medallion, he didn't mean it that way. They say, OK, tell him to come in Wednesday afternoon, we'll question him with an attorney present. I found him an attorney pro bono." The meeting never happenedinstead, Wednesday morning, the taxi driver was picked up by immigration and subsequently deported.
Cases like these are why COPO has asked the New York Civil Liberties Union to put in a Freedom of Information request on its behalf, to find out what kind of files the FBI is keeping on it. In all, the NYCLU filed requests on 14 political and religious organizations on March 14, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations of New York and the New York Immigration Coalition. This is part of a national campaign to uncover surveillance of anti-war, immigrant-advocacy, and pro-Muslim groups; the ACLU has filed similar requests in 20 states on behalf of more than 150 organizations and individuals. "When you have a government that refuses to distinguish between lawful protest and criticism and terrorism, then all the critics have to worry, and everyone has to worry because we're all critics at one point or another," says Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU.
For Razvi and the people he helps, the stakes are high. If he finds out there has been surveillance, he says, "I'm gonna clear my database. I'm not going to endanger anybody. That's wrong. I'm supposed to keep people safeI'm a gatekeeper." In the meantime, he has high hopes that Tauqir Rizvi will make his wedding.
"He's been calling here every day from jail," says Almas. "He says, keep praying, everything is going to be OK, don't worry."