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Friday, July 02, 2004

Hi Pakistan

Hi Pakistan

NEW YORK—A Pakistani immigrant who lost his fight against deportation despite intensive lobbying by neighbours and prominent American politicians appears to have come to terms with his fate.
“If leaving the country is God’s will, I accept that,” Ansar Mahmood was quoted as saying by an American wire service in a telephone interview from the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in New York State town.
“If God does something, there’s some reason, he added.
US officials on Tuesday denied Mahmood’s request to defer a removal order stemming from a minor immigration violation. The former pizza deliveryman, now 27, was questioned by police following the Sept. 11 attacks after taking pictures of a reservoir in his adopted hometown of Hudson in upstate New York.
Mahmood, who has spent some three years in detention, was cleared of suspicions about ties with terrorists, but investigators charged that he co-signed an apartment lease and registered a car for an area Pakistani couple with expired visas. He was convicted in January 2002 of illegally harbouring aliens and later ordered deported to Pakistan.
Mahmood’s fight to remain in the United States gained support from many of his Hudson Valley neighbours who felt he was unfairly targeted because he was from Pakistan, an Islamic country. Democratic Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer were among the congressional members who lent support. They harshly critcised his deportation order as discriminatory.
Twenty members of the House of Representatives, led by Congressmen Charles Rangel and Michael Honda, also signed a petition demanding his release from detention. Mahmood is one of the longest-held detainees from a roundup of Arab and Muslim men in the days after the 9/11 attacks.
Mahmood said he was grateful to his supporters, adding, “I still believe in this country and I believe in God very strongly. If God does something, there’s some reason.”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement cited an immigration judge’s characterisation of Mahmood as “a liar and a perjurer” in the decision Tuesday to go ahead with his removal. Immigration officials said they would act to remove Mahmood as soon as possible.
Supporters plan a candlelight vigil outside the western New York detention facility on Saturday night.
Mahmood’s lawyer says that the government is being vindictive. This ruling “just shows a lack of compassion by the current administration,” Rolando Velasquez said. “Ansar’s case highlights just how draconian those [immigration law] changes really are.”
Advocates have rallied around Mahmood, a soft-spoken Pakistani, saying that he had become a victim of a roundup that targeted Arab and Muslim immigrants, and was charged with a crime that before the terrorist attacks would have gone unnoticed. Susan Davies, a resident who helped lead the movement to free Mahmood, said: “His case was so clearly a case of racial profiling, it seemed only right that they shouldn’t deport him.”
Mahmood, a legal permanent resident, entered the United States in 2000 after winning an immigration lottery. He sent money to Pakistan to support his family there, and his supporters called him a model of what the United States hopes for from its immigrants.
An immigration judge first ordered his deportation in July 2002, a decision upheld this week. Immigration officials claimed Tuesday that racial profiling was not a factor.
“It has no bearing on the case,” said Michael Gilhooly, spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The facts of the case cannot be disputed.”
Supporters have vowed to push for a last-minute reprieve. But nothing short of a congressionally approved bill can stop his deportation.
Mary Lavelle, a secretary in Velasquez’s office, said she has heard her share of creative client stories, but still took the uncharacteristic move of joining the movement to free Mahmood. Lavelle said she was “brokenhearted” by the ruling.
“If America had Ansars for citizens, this would be such a wonderful place to live,” she said. “He is everything we should want for a citizen.”
Mahmood called his lawyer’s office, Lavelle said, to ask how his supporters had taken the news and then added: “ ‘Don’t worry about me. I’m strong.’ “

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