Dec 8, 2009

NSEERS: Wrong Then, Still Wrong Now -- Submitted by Priya Murthy, SAALT

Mohammad Sarfaraz Hussain

Mohammad Sarfaraz Hussain of Queens, New York, was an 18-year-old Pakistani immigrant who came to New York at age seven to visit his mother who was dying of cancer. Shortly after his mother died, his father in Pakistan passed away just as they were on the verge of getting their immigration papers. Having no family left in Pakistan, Mohammad stayed in Queens with his uncle for more than a decade. Mohammad became a popular high school athlete with goals of attending college and playing professional basketball. In 2003, however, his life changed after he complied with NSEERS. Upon registering, he was ordered to be deported. Mohammad was due to appear before an immigration judge, when Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, fortunately, intervened and urged for dismissing the deportation case. As a result, Mohammad was permitted to remain in the United States. While Mohammad was one of the lucky ones, thousands of others faced another fate in deportation proceedings. (Story featured in the film “Whose Children Are These?”)

Mr. A.

Originally from Pakistan, Mr. A. was a legally blind elderly gentleman who resided in Brooklyn. He came to the United States to seek medical treatment for his blindness and was living here for over ten years. He subsequently overstayed his visa and became undocumented. Then, in the winter of 2003, he learned of NSEERS at a town hall meeting with government officials. At the meeting, he was encouraged to register and learned that this may legalize his status. Subsequently, Mr. A. appeared for NSEERS and, to his surprise, was detained by immigration officials due to his status. During his detention he was held in a highly air-conditioned room in winter, told to remove his warm clothing, and has his passport confiscated. Lacking any identification or immigration status, Mr. A. was unable to obtain necessary medical treatment for his eyes. Following his detention, he was placed in removal proceedings. (Story collected by one of SAALT’s community partner organizations in New York City)

Abu Hasan Mahmud Parvez

Abu Hasan Mahmud Parvez is a native and citizen of Bangladesh who entered the United States on a diplomatic visa and was later granted a student visa. He then married a Bangladeshi woman, who was in the process of applying for a green card, and together they had a United States citizen son. However, Parvez was placed in removal proceedings due to a visa overstay, even after complying with NSEERS. (Story featured in “NSEERS: The Consequences of America’s Efforts to the Secure Its Borders” report)

The impact is clear and it is time to terminate the program and reassess what the costs were – in terms of dollars and cents, loss of community trust, and the devastating impact on individuals and families. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), along with many other organizations, welcomes the recent announcement of the audit of NSEERS by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. From the lack of efficacy as the counter-terrorism tool it was purported to be to the high volume of deportations resulting from minor immigration violations, this program has long deserved closer scrutiny and accountability. While the details of the audit's parameters are yet to be seen, we look forward to seeing a full accounting of the program and the members of the South Asians, Arab and Muslim community members it has affected.

Priya Murthy is the Policy Director at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national, nonprofit organization that amplifies the voices and perspectives of South Asians in national policy dialogues, and strengthens the leadership of South Asian organizations and individuals. SAALT also coordinates the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of 39 community-based organizations that serve, organize, and advocate on behalf of South Asians around the country on various issues, including NSEERS.