I had to go register with the US government post 9/11 along with 85K+ other Muslims.
We get up in arms about a story in Donetsk, Ukraine in which Jews are persecuted and are told to register themselves with their government. It must be Russia at the helm, we say. Those commies! Would it be surprising if it was them? Not at all. It’s expected from such an intolerant beast. We were riled up by our government and media at the thought of it, even though we found out later that the pamphlets they received were fake.
Americans, we tell ourselves, hold our morals to the highest standards. We would never do that to a group of people. NEVER. No one should be subjected to such atrocities. Right? RIGHT?
Until it is beneficial to our interests, of course. The United States of America did the exact same thing to Muslims living in this country, and at a much larger scale, while most Americans were hypnotized in a trance of patriotism and freedom.
It was post 9/11 and the US government passed the Patriot ACT, in which one stipulation issued a call to people from pre-dominantly Muslim countries to come in and register themselves. Over 85,000 people went in at the request of our government, because George The Cowboy Bush was trying to catch terrorists with his lasso. Let me reiterate. Over 85,000 Muslims, most of whom were innocent, were required to register themselves with the United States government, and to go through the court system and face possible deportation.
People with lives here. Families. Jobs. Companies and properties they owned. Having to face the possibility of having to leave it all behind and be sent back to the miseries of their previous nations. Thousands were deported, many others left the country on their own accord because they didn’t want to face the mindfuck of this process.
I had to go through this wash cycle myself. I was an illegal immigrant at the time. Starting in 2002 law enforcements contacted local Muslim communities throughout the country to let their members know that they had to go and declare themselves as being in this country. That the government was trying to catch terrorists and if you hadn’t done anything wrong, then you should go in and register. If you didn’t do as they said, you automatically faced deportation without due process. It was a modern day internment camp. They knew they couldn’t load us onto a bus and ship us off, so this was the next best thing. Let us rot and fold through the prison system.
All of this, to catch terrorists. We all know how lawful terrorists are. I’m sure all the terrorists in the US were telling themselves, “I am going to commit terrible acts of violence against the west, but I better go and register. I am a law abiding person after all!”
Not wanting to get into trouble, people from our communities went in to do what we felt was the right thing, even though these acts by the government were completely fallacious.
I came to the states at the age of 6 without any knowledge of what an illegal alien was. My parents tried hard in the 90s to obtain a legal status and were close to accomplishing the feat during the Clinton administration, but then Dubya came into office and any chance of amnesty was wiped out. I just always figured I was an American.
I had to register and I was probably going to get deported. My lawyers told me there was only one way to ensure that I would be able to stay.
I was dating my long term girlfriend at the time. Her and I did our due diligence to research any available methods to keep me here, but the lawyer was right, there was only one way. On March 15th, 2003, a week before the deadline to register, she and I went and got married. It was the most generous thing anyone had ever done for me. It was as if she gave me a kidney. At the time we figured we’d get married anyway, so why not sooner? She took on the burden and though the situation was heavy, enough weight was lifted off of me so that I wouldn’t get crushed. If that hadn’t happened, I probably would’ve committed suicide,because I was never going to let them send me back to Pakistan.
The deadline was March 21st, 2003, which was a Friday. My lawyers suggested that I go on March 20th, because if they were to jail me and my bail wasn’t set on time, I would have to spend a night in jail. If it were to happen on a Thursday, I could be bailed out on Friday. However, if I were to be jailed on Friday I would have to stay in jail till Monday because you couldn’t bail someone out over the weekend.
Since I lived in Chicago, I had to go register at a location downtown. It was super early in the morning, yet there were lines wrapping around the building. Brown people everywhere. I didn’t necessarily identify because I was becoming a much more mainstream American kid, but at that moment we were all one and the same. All griping for our lives.
Hours and hours passed as one by one each person was being processed and then taken up to get questioned. I got called up later in the evening and as I was walking into the interrogation room I saw people being cuffed. Old, young, it didn’t matter. The conversation was short: When did I move here? What was my status? None of it was surprising as I was well prepared by my lawyer, but it was definitely shocking seeing the entire process with my own eyes. Till this day, it’s all surreal to me.
Once they finished questioning me, which took only a couple of minutes, the officer filled out a bunch of paperwork, and I was handcuffed. I was taken down along with others to the basement, where they had two jail cells. It was very weird, because the building wasn’t a police station, it was an immigration office. You wouldn’t even know they had these down there. The room was cold and gloomy. They uncuffed me and told me to go into one of the cells along with a few other people that were already in there.
All of a sudden I hear someone crying and pleading in the other cell, “I don’t wanna go to jail. I don’t wanna go. Please set my bail! I don’t wanna go.” I recognized the guys voice, he was someone I kind of knew from my mosque. I started thinking to myself, “dude stop crying like a little bitch”. Of course I was just trying to stay mentally tough, because deep down I wanted to piss my pants too. Then an officer approaches his cell and shouts, “Shut up in there!” His emotions reduced down to a snivel.
People in my cell wanted to start reciting their evening prayers together. They asked me to join, but I was an Ismaili Muslim (one of the 72+ denominations in Islam) at the time and we prayed 3 times a day as opposed to the norm of 5 times a day. Ismailis don’t pray the same way either. They don’t put down a mat, and the prayer is completely different and a lot shorter. I declined. Plus, I had already stopped praying in general. At that time my thoughts of existence and a deity were evolving. I knew through logical reasoning, that no matter how much anyone was praying, no one was listening up there. It was all just gibberish to me.
Every so often someone would get bailed out. Since my interrogation happened late in the evening, my bail hadn’t been set and so I waited. The people who’s bail wasn’t set in time would have to spend the night at DuPage County Jail. They called for one last person in the other cell. It was the guy who was bawling earlier. I knew I recognized the voice! He got released. I didn’t.
“Well, that’s it for the night. The rest of you guys will be shipped off and your bail will be set tomorrow.”
The officers brought us out of the cells one by one and asked us to remove all of our clothing, down to our undies. Our shoelaces were pulled off and they made me remove both my piercings as well. Then we were told to put on a green jumpsuit, with the letters INS on the back.
Once everyone was changed we were cuffed in pairs, a la most prison movies. Our hands and feet both cuffed and linked to each other. My prison buddy was a shorter man, balding, with a leathery face and thick long wrinkles above his forehead. Looking back, he kind of reminds me of Gollum.
Finally, they took us out the back into an alley where large vans awaited. We were loaded until the vehicle was full and then they shut the door. An officer came to the driver’s side, got in and started the engine. He situated himself, put the car in drive and hit the pedal. He then turned on the radio and scanned the channels until he hit an AM news station.
The broadcaster was reporting on a large protest happening in Chicago near Lakeshore Drive. We were going to war with Iraq. It was a thematic beginning that would shape the destructive policies of American ideals for the next generation.
To be continued next week…..the night in jail.