From firstname.lastname@example.org Fri Dec 14 12:00:35 2001
Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics)
To: Cindy White <email@example.com>
Subject: Indian Mulim detainee has enough of America / Opinion article by Fatma Antar and Leslie Brett of Jews & Muslims for Peace
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 10:47:05 -0500 http://www.ctnow.com/news/local/hc-ins.artdec14.story?coll=hc%2Dheadlines%2Dlocal
TORRINGTON—Ayazuddin Sheerazi loved America.
Now, after 18 hellish days in the custody of federal immigration officials, he can't wait to leave the land of opportunity.
For the past six months, since arriving here on a
entry visa that allowed him to conduct business in the United
States, Sheerazi had shuttled back and forth between his home in
Bristol and New York City, hustling orders and delivering rugs for his
family's successful carpet plant in Bombay, India.
Although the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington depressed sales of his rug line and made it more difficult for foreigners even vaguely resembling Arabs to travel in the United States, Sheerazi considered himself a success.
In all the respectable families in Bombay, boys grow up dreaming
about coming to America and doing business in the most successful
business country on earth, Sheerazi said.
Now I was living that
dream. Everyone here treated me so well.
Sheerazi's dream vanished Nov. 25, when a team of Torrington police officers and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators swooped down on the gasoline station he was minding temporarily for his uncle. The officers led him away in handcuffs as part of a dragnet for foreigners suspected of involvement in the fall's anthrax scare.
Sheerazi's young cousins, who were at the station with him when the raid took place, burst into tears and cried for days after Sheerazi was led away.
Sheerazi, 32, was never charged with a crime. The violation of immigration law brought against him by the INS was dismissed Wednesday by a federal immigration judge in Hartford.
Immigration officials said he had overstayed his visa, which expired at the end of July.
On July 10, we filed for an extension of his stay, which is still
pending with the immigration service, so he's technically in this
country legally, said his attorney, Neil A. Weinrib, a New York
witness who initiated the federal sweep in the first
place—by claiming that he heard two
Arabs in a bar
talking about spreading anthrax through the mails—flunked his
lie detector test.
But that didn't stop the INS from holding Sheerazi for what he describes as18 often hellish days in the Hartford Correctional Center.
The agency was able to arrest him because of another important change
in America since Sept. 11. Under the terms of the
an anti-terrorism measure hastily passed by Congress in October, the
government merely has to
suspect that a foreign national is a
terrorist in order to hold him or her indefinitely without charges.
Sheerazi, an Indian national, was tending the Coastal gas station on North Elm Street in Torrington because the owners, his uncle and aunt, Salim and Hina Sherazzi, were away visiting a doctor in Bristol. The immigration agents, as part of their sweep, had included the Coastal station because they heard it was owned by foreigners, he said.
They told me that they didn't have time to go to Bristol to see
my passport, Sheerazi said.
They simply told me, `You can come
with us now.' So I called my uncle at the doctor's and told
him that the children were still here.
For the next 24 hours, Sheerazi was shunted through a series of lockups—in Torrington, Hartford and then the Hartford INS building—without being fed, told why he was being detained, or receiving an answer when he pleaded with his jailers to allow him to call his relatives in Torrington.
By his second night of arrest, Sheerazi finally landed at the Hartford Correctional Center, usually detained with three Pakistanis picked up in the same sweep of northwest Connecticut. He settled in for the grim routine of living in the cellblocks of Hartford Correctional by night, and then being ferried over to the INS building to spend his days in a lockup there.
INS officials decline to discuss the case, citing rules that prevent them from discussing individual immigration matters.
Sheerazi's strongest memory of detention is hunger. A Muslim, he was observing the religious holiday of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast by eating modest meals of vegetarian food. At the INS building, Sheerazi said, no food was offered all day. Back at Hartford Correctional, there was no vegetarian food, so all he could eat was the pallid offerings of white bread.
I lost a lot of weight, Sheerazi said.
But the hardest part
for me was not knowing for 18 days. I kept asking the immigration
officers `Why am I here? What have I done?' They wouldn't tell
me, and then finally the Pakistanis seemed to know that we were all
being held because of the anthrax cases.
Isolated, uncertain how long he would be held, Sheerazi found it difficult not to succumb to despair at night. He was particularly humiliated by the use of leg chains every day when he was transported back and forth from Hartford Correctional to the INS building, he said.
I cried in my cell at night, he said.
I prayed for my
release. We are from a family that is respected in India. But to be
led away in chains is associated with a great deal of shame.
Back in Torrington, Sheerazi's relatives were coping with the confusion of trying to contact him through the INS bureaucracy, and the emotional wake of his arrest. Salim and Hina Sheerazi's two daughters, 11 and 7, had difficulty coping in school and often burst into tears in the middle of the day, they said.
The psychology counselors at the Forbes School were wonderful,
said Hina Sheerazi.
When I started to cry, too, they explained that
for now it was best if I didn't show a lot of emotion in front of
the children. But I was to show the children that we knew that we
hadn't done anything wrong, that we were proud, and that we would
fight for our rights.
Sheerazi was freed Wednesday after posting a $2,000 bond required by an immigration judge. Weinrib, his lawyer, is convinced Sheerazi can prove his right to remain legally in America at any future hearings.
But Sheerazi himself said no future hearings will be necessary.
I'm leaving and returning to India as soon as Ramadan is over
next week, he said.
I loved being in this country and working
hard to build my family's business back in India. But now I am
having too much trouble understanding what happened to me here.