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Muslims recall questionable detentions that adopted 9/11

WASHINGTON (AP) — Round New York Metropolis within the weeks after the Sept. 11 assaults, as an eerie quiet settled over floor zero, South Asian and Arab males began vanishing.

Quickly, greater than 1,000 had been arrested in sweeps throughout the metropolitan space and nationwide.

Most had been charged solely with overstaying visas and deported again to their house nations. However earlier than that occurred, many had been held in detention for months, with little exterior contact, particularly with their households. Others would dwell with a unique anxiousness, compelled to signal what was successfully a Muslim registry with no thought what may comply with.

Whereas the remembrances and memorials of 9/11′s 20th anniversary slip into the previous, a whole lot of Muslim males and their households face troublesome 20-year anniversaries of their very own.


Within the assaults’ aftermath, the immigrant advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Shifting, or DRUM, anticipated an increase in hate crimes and harassment. So it arrange a hotline and positioned flyers primarily in South Asian neighborhoods.

“We began getting calls from girls saying, ‘Final evening, legislation enforcement busted into our house and took my husband and my brother.’ Kids calling us and saying, ‘My father left for work 4 days in the past and he hasn’t come house, and we haven’t heard something,’” government director Fahd Ahmed remembers.

“There have been individuals who had been simply disappearing from our communities,” he says, “and no person knew what was taking place to them or the place they had been going.”

They had been, in line with the 9/11 Fee report, arrested as “particular curiosity” detainees. Immigration hearings had been closed, detainee communication was restricted and bond was denied till the detainees had been cleared of terrorist connections. Identities had been stored secret.

A evaluate carried out by the Justice Division’s Workplace of the Inspector Normal stated the Justice Division’s “maintain till cleared” coverage meant a major share of the detainees stayed for months regardless of immigration officers questioning the legality of the extended detentions and though there have been no indications they had been linked to terrorism. Compounding that, they confronted “a sample of bodily and verbal abuse” significantly on the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York. Situations had been, the report stated, “unduly harsh.”

Detainees had been swept up a myriad of how, the report stated. Three had been stopped on a site visitors violation and located with faculty drafting plans. Their boss defined they had been engaged on a building mission and had been speculated to have them, however authorities arrested and detained them anyway. One other was arrested as a result of he appeared too anxious to purchase a automotive.

Though a lot of those that had been held had come into the U.S. illegally or overstayed visas, “it was unlikely that the majority if not all” would have been pursued if not for the assault investigation, the report stated.

The “blunderbuss strategy” of rounding up Muslims and presuming there could be terrorists amongst them was “pure racism and xenophobia in operation,” says Rachel Meeropol, senior workers lawyer with the Heart for Constitutional Rights, who filed a lawsuit in 2002 on behalf of a number of of the lads and continues to combat for added plaintiffs to today.

“It shouldn’t be a shock to anybody that it didn’t work,” Meeropol says. “In fact, what it did do was destroy complete communities and to not point out the lives of all of the people rounded up.”


Yasser Ebrahim, an authentic plaintiff within the lawsuit, was at a store in his neighborhood and observed folks intently watching the tv. “I noticed these photographs on the display screen, and for a second there was like some type of a film or one thing,” he remembers. “I couldn’t consider what I used to be seeing.”

He had been in the USA since 1992 and loved his life. “I liked all the things about America,” he stated by Zoom from Egypt. As a teen, even earlier than arriving, he idolized American fashionable tradition. “The meals, the music, the flicks, all the things was so enticing, and all people wished to go to America,” he stated.

After studying the hijackers had been Muslims, he reassured his mom in a telephone name that he and his brother could be high-quality. In different nations there is perhaps issues, however America was a spot of authorized rights, the place proof mattered, he stated. “We nonetheless had religion within the system in America at that time,” he stated.

That ended on Sept. 30, 2001. A number of federal brokers confirmed up at his door in Brooklyn. He says he had requested an extension of his vacationer visa, however brokers instructed him they’d no file of it. He thought the matter could be straightened out rapidly, or he could be deported. He stayed in custody till the next June.

For 3 months, his household didn’t know what occurred to him or his brother. A neighbor ended that thriller, explaining they’d been taken into custody. Even then there was little exterior communication. And a few officers on the facility in Brooklyn had been bodily and verbally abusive. It was months earlier than he noticed his brother. “There was the final feeling that we’re going to be right here endlessly,” he says.

Ebrahim’s brother was deported first. When Ebrahim was lastly allowed to depart, he was given garments a number of sizes too massive, together with pants he needed to bodily maintain up along with his arms.

He was positioned on a airplane with out figuring out the vacation spot. On board, he realized nobody appeared Egyptian. The airplane went to Greece and after spending an evening within the custody of Greek authorities, he boarded a flight for Cairo, with no cash. One other Egyptian, deported from Texas, gave him $20 to eat and make contact with his household to allow them to know he was house.

In 2009 he and 4 others, together with his brother, reached a $1.26 million settlement on the lawsuit. Although not an apology, he says, “we thought it was form of admitting that one thing mistaken was executed to us.”


Umair Anser was 14 as he and math classmates watched on a classroom tv as the dual towers fell.

“You possibly can’t settle for one thing like that occuring on American soil,” Anser says. “You understand you’re protected within the U.S. … however then one thing like that occurs and you actually query how protected you’re, particularly whenever you’re that younger.”

His father, Anser Mehmood, left Pakistan in 1988 throughout a time of political turmoil, trying towards the security and promise of the USA. He labored as a truck driver and generally drove a taxi. The household settled in Bayonne, New Jersey.

Anser got here house from faculty on Oct. 3, 2001, and located his mother almost catatonic, his house ransacked and the household’s computer systems and his father gone. His uncle had disappeared in an identical approach days earlier.

“We didn’t know the place our father was for the subsequent three months,” Anser says.

He was, it turned out, in solitary confinement — within the particular housing unit of Metropolitan Detention Heart in Brooklyn, the identical place chronicled by the inspector basic, Anser says. When the household did see him once more, they encountered a unique man. “He was so weak … I couldn’t see my dad like that,” Anser says. “It was very emotional for me.”

For the rest of his detention, he wrote letters, talked concerning the difficulties and instructed his household to be robust and help their mom. “He instructed us, ‘Allah is there for us. He would be the supplier; all the things can be OK.’ I believe he needed to give us hope so we didn’t lose hope.”

Anser and his brothers attended protests with their mom organized by DRUM. However with their father gone, there was no monetary help for the household. The sons had been bullied in school; neighbors harassed them at house. It turned untenable and the household returned to Pakistan, leaving Mehmood behind, in jail.

“My mom was extraordinarily heartbroken to depart the nation as a result of she knew the quantity of effort and the quantity of labor that my father put in to make all the things occur for us,” Anser says.

Mehmood ultimately pleaded responsible to working with an unauthorized Social Safety quantity and was sentenced to eight months in jail. He was transferred to Passaic County Jail earlier than lastly being deported on Might 10, 2002, to Pakistan, the place the household now lives.


For Sultana Jahangir, there was a unique anxiousness.

It was one which intensified when her husband, Mohammed Alam, was known as to register via the Nationwide Safety Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, a authorities coverage launched in 2002 as a part of the battle on terror. Some would name it a “Muslim registry.”

It required all noncitizen males 16 or older from 25 nations to register with the U.S. authorities. The one nation amongst them that didn’t have an Arab or Muslim majority was North Korea.

Jahangir, now dwelling in Toronto together with her husband and household, got here to the U.S. in 1994 from Bangladesh to go to her sister. Throughout their keep, her sister’s husband died unexpectedly, and Jahangir and her husband stayed to assist.

“We labored like loopy … many days, I wouldn’t see the solar,” she says. “The night comes, I don’t see the sundown. My life was caught in a darkish place.”

They labored quietly this fashion for years — Jahangir at a restaurant, Alam driving taxis — all of the whereas making an attempt to use for political asylum.

Within the days that adopted the Sept. 11 assaults, Jahangir’s co-worker known as her “Bin Laden’s sister.” Shortly after, her supervisor let her go. She struggled to seek out work after that. “No person,” she says, “wished to rent a Muslim then.”

In the meantime, she and her household would hear reviews of Muslim males being taken off the road by legislation enforcement with out rationalization, they usually frightened for Alam.

When Alam responded to the decision to register for NSEERS, he was held for hours after which launched with a deportation order. Paranoid about what may comply with, he retreated from public life. “It didn’t really feel protected for him to exit and drive the taxi,” Jahangir says. “We discouraged him from going out. He stayed house with the kids and I needed to tackle extra duty.”

In the end, the household was capable of keep away from being deported to Bangladesh by arranging a visa for Canada.

In the long run, NSEERS resulted in no terrorism convictions. It was suspended in 2011 and fully dissolved in 2016. It did, nonetheless, land greater than 13,000 boys and males in deportation proceedings.


20 years later, no terror assault within the U.S. has come near the dimensions of Sept. 11. Probably the most severe threats have come from lone wolves. Probably the most public of threats have been from People, not foreigners.

Joshua Dratel, co-chair of the Nationwide Affiliation of Felony Protection Attorneys’ nationwide safety committee, says the detentions are a foundational piece of one thing troubling — an acceptance of extra invasive legislation enforcement for defense from terrorists.

Searches at airports, in buildings, even on subways — “these are issues that had been as soon as distinctive and extraordinary, and now the exception has change into the norm. I believe that has put us ready of vulnerability to extra of it and a extra malevolent model of it.”

Shirin Sinnar, a legislation professor at Stanford College, says the acute measures taken after 9/11 have been normalized to the purpose that “now we don’t even discuss them. They’ve simply change into a part of the sorts of surveillance and deprivation of rights and profiling that we anticipate to see.”

The optimistic, she says: Extra folks appear prepared to problem that.

To a level, that’s true. Attitudes have trended towards folks being extra cautious of the federal government’s counterterrorism efforts. However a recent poll by The Related Press-NORC Heart for Public Affairs Analysis reveals {that a} majority of People, 54%, nonetheless consider it’s generally essential to sacrifice rights and freedom to combat terrorism.

The long-running lawsuit wherein extra plaintiffs had been added after the primary 5 had been awarded a settlement has continued. It has ricocheted via the court docket system with combined outcomes. In 2017 the Supreme Courtroom threw out components of the swimsuit however allowed one half to face, sending it again to decrease courts. Final month, a federal district court docket choose in Brooklyn dismissed the lawsuit.

Meeropol says the preliminary settlement was proof that the plaintiffs had a compelling case. She says no resolution has been made but on an attraction. That leaves a placing reality: Almost 20 years later, no people have been held accountable for the way the detainees had been handled, she says.

For the households marking an ignominious anniversary, the query is fundamental and broad: What’s totally different?

Jahangir runs a South Asian girls’s rights group in Toronto, persevering with her combat in opposition to systemic racism and discrimination. She misses seeing her sister however has no want to step foot in America once more. “I have a look at my 10 years within the U.S. as a black gap for me, (and) after 9/11, I discovered that this isn’t a spot to dwell.”

Ebrahim, now 49 and proprietor of an organization that gives coding and different outsource companies to different corporations, shared Jahangir’s anger after he returned to Egypt. However twenty years later, he would think about bringing his teenage son to New York Metropolis to see sights and sounds that he discovered “charming.”

His recommendation for U.S. residents: “By no means twist the Structure once more. What makes America America is the liberty, and the Structure.”


Nasir reported from New York Metropolis.

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