US may deport ‘illegal’ Muslims

WASHINGTON: More than 13,000 of the Arab and Muslim men, who came forward earlier this year to register with immigration authorities in the US — roughly 16 per cent of the total — may now face deportation.

Only a handful have been linked to terrorism. But of the 82,000 men who registered, more than 13,000 have been found to be living here illegally, officials say. 

Many had hoped to win leniency by demonstrating their willingness to cooperate with the campaign against terror. However, officials believe that most will be expelled.

The government has initiated deportation proceedings, and an exodus has already begun. For decades, illegal immigrants have often flourished because officials lacked the staff, resources and political will to deport them. But since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the government has been detaining and deporting illegal immigrants from countries considered breeding grounds for terrorists. 

Advocates for immigrants warn that such a strategy can be abused by government officials. They cite a recent internal Justice Department report that was deeply critical of the government’s roundup of illegal immigrants after September 11, 2001. Senior officials were found to have repeatedly ignored calls from immigration officials to distinguish between the innocent and guilty.

Advocates for immigrants have accused officials of practising selective enforcement by focusing on illegal immigrants from Arab and Muslim nations. The new US immigration rules have also played havoc with students.

Yahya Jalil, a Pakistani student, arrived in the US to study electrical engineering at Stanford University 11 years ago. “There was a real sense that this was a free country with lots of personal freedoms,”said the 29-year-old. But few know better how life in the US has changed for Muslim immigrants.  

In March, Jalil boarded a flight for a job interview in Britain without realising he was supposed to register with US immigration authorities before leaving the country. His oversight violated a new Homeland Security policy aimed at tracking men from nations with large Muslim populations when they enter and exit the US. So when he tried to return to America at the end of spring break, US officials declared him an “inadmissible” alien. Because of his expulsion, Jalil was unable to complete his course. 

Nowadays, foreign academics face lengthy visa application processing, sometimes exacerbated by security background checks. Still, there are signs that things may be getting better. The wait  for student visas, once over six months, has shrunk to 30 days in 90 per cent of cases, say government officials.

 Jalil’s story also ends on a happy note. Soon after he was refused re-entry to US, Penn officials wrote letters asking the US ambassador in Pakistan to grant him a new visa. Penn students also petitioned the government with over 3,400 electronic “signatures,”and joined Jalil’s relatives in lobbying three US senators.  

On May 10, the State Department rolled out a new system for granting visas to innocent violators of the exit registration policy, and Jalil was one of the first beneficiaries.

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