CONTRA COSTA TIMES - July 2, 2003
Brothers face deportation on 'minor' violation
By Jack Chang
SAN FRANCISCO - Hassan and Ahmad Amin didn't think twice about their immigration status when they walked into a government office in February to comply with a special registration program affecting men mainly from Muslim countries.
Since that day, their lives have changed, perhaps irreparably.
The teenage brothers now face deportation to Pakistan, where they were born and which they left about five years ago to start a new life with their mother in California.
Immigrant and civil rights advocates say the government is punishing the Amin brothers and some 13,000 other people who complied with the registration program by seeking to deport them for highly technical immigration violations.
Hassan, 19, and Ahmad, 17, are in trouble because they have lived in the United States without a legal visa for several years. Their brother, a U.S. citizen, has filed an application to grant them legal residency.
Critics say the government is singling out Muslims for immigration enforcement. The registration program required male visitors over age 16 from two dozen predominately Muslim countries and North Korea to register with the government.
"People who otherwise would not have been targeted are being targeted," said advocate Samina Faheem. "We're talking about minor violations here. These are people who came here to voluntarily comply, and they were swept into selective enforcement."
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday called by the American Civil Liberties Union, Hassan said he has no prospects in Pakistan, where he may end up.
"We thought we'd go to the INS to let them know we're here legally," the Cupertino resident said, as his family looked on. "We came to the U.S. for a better future, and now we may have to go back and start all over again."
The Amins' older brother, Imran Mughal, who is a U.S. citizen, said he had petitioned for legal residency for his mother in 1998 and had been told by an attorney that his two underage brothers would be covered as well. Two years later, however, Mughal learned he had to petition for his brothers separately and that they would not automatically receive temporary visas while waiting for their residency, as their mother had.
Their mother, Tahira Mansour, became a legal resident in 2000.
Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Sharon Rummery said even people such as the Amins with immigration applications pending with the government are breaking the law if they are in the country without a legal visa.
"You might have an application pending, but that doesn't mean you have the right to stay here," Rummery said.
She said the registration process, which recently finished, was the beginning of a nationwide entry-exit system that by 2005 will affect all visitors. The government started its program with Muslim countries "because they are where terrorist groups function and are a threat to the U.S."
Other, non-Muslim countries have yet to be added to the list of those requiring special registration.
Since Sept. 11, 2002, the government has registered 144,513 people at immigration offices and ports of entry; deportation proceedings have begun against 13,434 of them.
A recently released report co-written by former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner heavily criticized the registration program, saying it has done almost nothing to catch potential terrorists and has only alienated American Muslims.
Some registrants, such as former San Francisco resident Asam Jaldoush, voluntarily left the country rather than fight their deportations.
The Jordanian national of Palestinian descent said last month before leaving that he was fed up with the U.S. government's treatment of Muslims and would declare himself a political refugee when he walked into Canada as planned.
"I am relieved that I'm not going to be discriminated against anymore, but I'm stressed out that I'll be leaving all my people here."