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In the spotlight

Ahmad Amin, left, and Hassan Amin, center, are shown above with friend Kanwar Javeed.

Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

Brothers face uncertain future: Ahmad and Hassan Amin, brothers from Pakistan

Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Tuesday, September 23, 2003

On Feb. 11, Ahmad and Hassan Amin of San Jose assumed they would be back at school by afternoon. The two young brothers from Pakistan had skipped their morning classes to comply with a new government policy requiring men from certain Middle Eastern and North African countries to register with federal immigration officials.

But the brothers never made it back to school. Hassan, 20, spent the night more than 150 miles away in the Yuba County jail, where immigration detainees often are held. Ahmad, 18, was put on probation and reports to officials monthly.

Both now face deportation.

Hassan and Ahmad came to the United States in 1998 with their mother, hired a lawyer and immediately launched the process of applying for green cards. Because of what they now say was bum legal advice, only their mother received her green card. They applied again, but by the time the registration deadline rolled around, their visas had expired.

Still, they appeared for registration. The young men said they weren't particularly worried because they had followed the rules and attempted to change their status legally.

"I wasn't thinking that I wasn't going to go home," said Hassan, a student at De Anza College.

Instead of sweating through football practice at Cupertino High School, Ahmad watched his brother being escorted away. "I was scared. I was just thinking, 'What was he going to do in jail?' " he said.

Hassan was released after one night. Since then, the brothers have struggled with lawyers' predictions that they likely will be forced to leave a country they have come to love.

"I think about it every day. If we're deported, then what's going to happen over there (in Pakistan)? There is no good education over there," said Hassan, who is studying to become an accountant. "What about my future? Where can I go if I'm there? All of my friends are here."

People don't see our limits

McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney in Sacramento

As the U.S. attorney in Sacramento, McGregor Scott is the Justice Department's point man on the Patriot Act and ensuring people understand it.

"There's a widely held misperception that the Department of Justice has all this unilateral power," Scott said. "That we can lock people up and go listen to people's phone calls and look at people's e-mails, and we can't do any of that stuff without it being subject to judicial review. ... We do not have these unilateral sweeping powers. We still have to get search warrants, we still have to get authority."

Scott is frustrated by the outcry among librarians and others who believe federal agents are engaging in widespread investigations into what people read or check out of the library.

"It's a sexy thing to talk about library records and all this stuff, but in a practical context it just doesn't happen that often," he said.

Dream turned into a nightmare

Kourosh Gholamshahi, Sacramento man who was jailed for nearly one year

In June of last year, immigration authorities appeared at Kourosh Gholamshahi's door and hauled him off to jail.

The Sacramento man had ignored a deportation order, and ended up spending nearly a year behind bars, confined for most of that time -- nine months -- to a Sacramento County jail cell where he was allowed out for just two 45-minute periods a day to shower or make phone calls.

The isolation depressed Gholamshahi so much that he started taking Paxil, an antidepressant.

"I came for the freedom and democracy in this country," said Gholamshahi, 36. "I should have been treated much better. Dogs have better treatment than people from the Middle East."

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Sharon Rummery said confidentiality rules prohibit her from commenting on Gholamshahi's case, or explaining why he was held so long despite having no known ties to terrorism.

She said it is customary for detainees who have been given final deportation orders to have their cases automatically reviewed if they are held more than 90 days. Those reviews can be held up if detainees don't cooperate with immigration officials working to obtain travel documents for them.

Gholamshahi said he declined to sign any travel documents while in custody because of his fear of returning to Iran. He fled that country in 1985, he said, because his family is Bahá'i, a religion whose followers face persecution from the country's Islamic government.

He entered the United States on a temporary visitors visa and came to Sacramento, where he learned English and worked a string of odd jobs.

His application for political asylum was denied in 1989, according to court records, because he could not prove he was Bahá'i. Gholamshahi remained in California anyway, he said, because he "didn't know where to go."

In 1998, he married an American citizen, Bridget Gholamshahi, who applied for a green card for her husband. Gholamshahi believes that may be how immigration officials found out he had not left the country.

Gae Geram, an immigration bond specialist in Sacramento, spent months advocating for Gholamshahi's release.

"It was an extreme miscarriage of justice," Geram said. "When you have someone who has no criminal background ... who isn't a threat to this country that we love, why would we put them in a situation where they would be subject to life and death circumstances on a daily basis?"

Geram's advocacy helped. After short stints in an Arizona detention center and the Yuba County jail, Gholamshahi was released on May 22 when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear his appeal for asylum. That appeal is pending.

She says clients unfairly targeted

Banafsheh Akhlaghi, immigration attorney

A Bay Area immigration attorney, Banafsheh Akhlaghi became a vocal advocate for Middle Eastern immigrants in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.

She said she is particularly outraged by the program that required men from Middle Eastern and North African countries to register with immigration officials. According to Akhlaghi, many of her clients who reported for registration were jailed, and upon their release they were funneled into deportation hearings.

Some of them had valid work visas or had applied for visa renewals, she said, but were detained nonetheless.

Akhlaghi believes it's wrong to target a group of people based on their country of origin, and to deport them on visa violations that would have been easily resolved before Sept. 11.

She said American officials can and should protect the country but should do so fairly.

"This is unheard of. We don't, and we have never had in the history in the United States, a roundup of a group of people, other than the Japanese," Akhlaghi said.

"In World War II, we were rounding them up and holding them in a particular location. Now, we're rounding up men and clearing them out. We're herding them like a bunch of sheep or something.

" ... They have no idea they're going to the slaughterhouse for the most part. They're being picked up and put in deportation proceedings. That's how we're getting rid of them."

Call for strict visa controls

Carole Blalock, European American Culture Council of Sacramento

Carole Blalock chairs the immigration committee of the European American Culture Council of Sacramento, a group that has vigorously lobbied for more immigration controls.

Blalock believes the federal government can and should crack down on immigrants who have overstayed their visas or otherwise violated immigration law.

"When they apply for a visa, they agree that they're only going to stay here for a certain length of time. They should definitely be deported. It shouldn't be an open invitation, 'I'll come on in and I'll leave when I want to,' " she said.

"When they (government officials) find someone who has overstayed a visa, they need to act upon it immediately. ... When you start to violate the visa laws and any other law in any other country, they just literally throw you out or throw you in jail," she said.

Blalock believes immigrants hoping to enter the country should undergo intense scrutiny, including background checks and health exams.

"Anyone who wants to come in should have to go through the strict compliance of being checked out. That way we know they honestly want to come here to work honestly and live honestly, not just to come in and be a part of a cell, a terrorist group, or to sell drugs or to commit crimes," she said. "We have to protect America and American citizens first before we're concerned about anybody else."

©Copyright 2003, The Sacramento Bee (CA, USA)

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