Ninety-seven undocumented immigrants were arrested in an in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Tennessee recently. The next day, 500 children remained absent from school and the community responded in protest.
This follows the order earlier this month by President Donald Trump to send National Guard troops to the borders. Another recent report by The Intercept reveals that Department of Homeland Security documents between January 2010 and September 2017, show 1,224 complaints were filed about some form of abuse by a person held in ICE custody. Half of those alleged the perpetrator worked for ICE. Of these complaints, only 43 were investigated.
The mistreatment of immigrants in this country is not a new practice.
In December 2017, 92 undocumented Somali nationals were bound with handcuffs secured to waists, feet shackled together and held on an airplane for nearly 48 hours by ICE. The plane was supposed to arrive in Mogadishu, Somalia, but landed instead in Dakar, Senegal. It was held there in place 23 hours before flying back to the United States.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, passengers allege they suffered “inhumane conditions and egregious abuse,” including urinating into bottles or soiling themselves when the toilets overflowed. “ICE agents kicked, struck, or dragged detainees down the aisle of the plane and subjected some to verbal abuse and threats,” according to the lawsuit.
The systemic penalization and dehumanization of undocumented people does not improve our national security, it hurts it.
As a Muslim lawyer who studies the intersection of law, politics and religion, I was drawn to investigate the competing narratives of the New Jersey 2006-2007 Fort Dix Five sting. The government alleged the five men indicted were terrorists conspiring to kill members of the US military. They are serving life sentences.
In 2016, their post conviction relief motion requesting a new trial based on the allegation their attorneys prevented them to testify in court, was denied. This means unless the defendants discover new evidence previously undisclosed to them which would materially affect the outcome, there are no more avenues for redress.
Non-profit advocacy groups like Project Salam and National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms maintained the men were entrapped by informants in a government conspiracy.
After piecing together the sting by compiling and listening to the raw data (including hundreds of FBI wiretaps generated by the two informants, more than 10,000 FISA intercepted phone taps), reading through hundreds of surveillance logs prepared by FBI agents and 302s documenting the FBI agent’s interactions with their informants, the full picture was undeniable. The case, prosecuted under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), was a sham.
Of the two government informants disclosed in the case, both were “out of status,” a term used to describe the loss of immigration status due to a violation of visa terms. According to the court transcript, Besnik Bakalli, one of the informants testified in open court that he’d attempted premeditated murder in Albania and then fled to the United States.
In Albania, blood feuds are still common place. Bakalli escaped to the United States after attempting murder. Cross examining attorney Michael Huff asked in the 2008 trial, “[B]lood feud basically means that if you shoot, kill, injure someone from another family, then they have the right or the tradition to shoot, kill or harm someone in your family.”
According to the government’s motion in limine, the government stated, “Bakalli himself and his parents have been promised consideration regarding their own immigration status as a result of Bakalli’s cooperation.”
The other informant, Mahmoud Omar, who’d been caught in a fraud sting, was likewise out of status. According to the court records, Omar tried to flee to Canada to avoid cooperating with the government, but was stopped at Customs and Border Patrol. The government offered clemency and legal status in exchange for his cooperation.
What’s more peculiar is three of the five targets who were brothers, Tony, Shain and Eljvir Duka, were also undocumented. The three men had repeatedly complained about their status. Ethnic Albanians, they’d been brought to the United States through the Mexican border as children. All three had applied for remain in the United States legally, but they believed their applications were stuck in a bureaucratic chokehold.
The Duka brothers reportedly also loved firearms and target-range shooting. However, as they lamented repeatedly to the informants wearing live wires, their undocumented status prevented them from purchasing firearms legally on the open market.
After a year of working the Dukas, Mahmoud Omar, who’d presented himself as a connected businessman, offered to sell weapons at a fraction of the cost of retail. The brothers agreed, discussing with each other that they would register the weapons once their status changed.
On May 7, 2007, the date of the weapon transaction, they were arrested. An undocumented informant had sold undocumented targets guns, as part of what the government claimed was a criminal conspiracy to murder U.S. soldiers.
Though the evidence on the record explicitly states the brothers were purchasing the weapons for the gun range, all three are serving life sentences in three separate federal penitentiaries. Tony has five children. Eljvir has a daughter, who was born after his arrest.
The treatment of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. justice system is unjust. It does not align with the ideal of this country being a safe haven of ethnic and religious pluralism and opportunity.
Policymakers then need to work to make this ideal a reality, rather than continue the dehumanization of populations because they crossed a border without inspection or overstayed their visas.
The late Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, reportedly told a group of U.S. immigrants, “You, who are so-called illegal alien, must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful of more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”
That undocumented immigrants should be vilified for no other reason than a nationality they didn’t choose is irrational. Subjecting people to a separate legal code, penalizing them for the border they were born within, is irresponsible. Imploding families due to immigration status is inhumane.
This war on immigrants needs to end.
(Author Huma Yasin is an attorney and co-founder of Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE). FACE is an idependent first line of defense for victims in the Muslim community experiencing abuse and neglect at the hands of religious leaders and the institutions protecting them. Yasin is also the author of the forthcoming book, Conspiracy: The True Story of the Fort Dix Five. She is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.)