Sixteen-year-old Sadia Ali, a native of Pakistan, was among the throngs of protesters from Queens who gathered at ground zero in lower Manhattan yesterday, on their way to the big rally at City Hall.
Seeking an easily accessible station, organizers picked the World Trade Center subway stop as a rendezvous point for the thousands who packed trains in from Queens. But for Ali, who had walked out of her high school that morning to protest alongside her mother father and two brothers, the gaping wound of the former World Trade Center site was impossible to ignore.
In 2000, Ali’s parents fled Pakistan for Chicago after her father, a devout Shia, was attacked by a group of Taliban thugs who threatened to kill him for his beliefs. Sadia and her brother and sister arrived in 2001. After the attack on the twin towers, it didn’t matter that the al Qaeda hijackers were backed by the same brand of Taliban extremists who went after her father in Pakistan.
To middle America, their brown skin and Muslim faith made Ali’s family (shown above, minus Sadia, who didn’t want her picture taken) guilty by association.
“They said it was us who did it. We didn’t have time to tell them that it wasn’t, that these were the same people who were attacking us because of our religion,” said Sadia, whose uncle was later killed by the Taliban in Pakistan.
Worried they would be deported like the other Muslims and South Asians being swept up across the country, the Ali family fled to Montreal. They believed the Canadian government would be more receptive to their bid for political asylum. But after three years, the Canadian government punted them back to the U.S.
So now they’re in New York, having moved to Jackson Heights, Queens, with the help of the immigrant rights group DRUM, or Desis Rising Up and Moving. (Desi, according to the website, is a term South Asians commonly use to identify their heritage.)
Sadia and her family say going back to Pakistan now would be a death sentence. So would HR 4437, the Border Protection Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, passed by the House, which calls for the mandatory detention and deportation of illegal aliens and imposes criminal penalties on those (like DRUM) who knowingly help them.
The so-called compromise bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27 isn’t much better. It also vastly expands the grounds for deportation and enables Homeland Security agents to expel suspected foreigners without a hearing.
“I’m just scared, I have no life, I’m left with nothing,” said Sadia as the protesters set off for City Hall, crammed on the sidewalks because the feeder march had no permit for the street.
“Si, se puede!” a boisterous group of Central and South American immigrants chanted defiantly. But Sadia had trouble sharing their confidence that the laws stacked against them would change.
“This is what I’ve been doing for the last three years,” Sadia said of her family’s battle for American citizenship, for an American future. “I just don’t want to die doing this,” she added, before she and the rest of the her family disappeared into the crowds.