Stopping a “DREAM Act” deportation in NYC

October 5, 2011

Danny Katch reports on the fight against the deportation of a mother and daughter.

LAST THURSDAY morning, 19-year-old Nadia Habib was 10 blocks away from the Occupy Wall Street encampment, engaged in a very different struggle led by angry youth.

Nadia stood in front of the hulking Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building at 26 Federal Plaza, holding the shoulders of her 5-year-old sister Nashita, knowing that within a few hours, they might be permanently separated.

The two sisters faced a dozen reporters at a press conference and rally organized by the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYCL) to protest the scheduled deportation of Nadia and her mother Nazmin.

As reporters fired questions, Nadia's responses were brief and softly spoken. She talked more freely the day before to Erica Pearson of the New York Daily News: "I could be literally leaving everything I know. Leaving would mean being separated from my brothers, my baby sister and my dad."

Nadia arrived in the U.S. from Bangladesh with her mother when she was a 1-year-old baby to join her father Jawad, a U.S. resident and green card holder. Jawad and Nazmin had three more children, all American citizens. Nadia, who doesn't speak Bengali, told Pearson that she has "always considered myself as American as anyone else."

Nadia Habib (at the microphones) speaks at a press conference and rally, with supporters surrounding her
Nadia Habib (at the microphones) speaks at a press conference and rally, with supporters surrounding her (Danny Lucia | SW)

Nazmin and Nadia applied for asylum, but their case was denied in 2000 when Judge Sandy Hom rejected their claim based on a technicality that was actually a result of a typing error made by the court.

As a graduate of New York City's prestigious Bronx High School of Science and a promising psychology student at Stonybrook University, Habib's case drew the attention and support of a Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and a number of New York City Council members.

But the heavy lifting has been done by the members of the Youth Leadership Council, who gathered thousands of petition signatures and turned out over 100 people--mostly Latino and South Asian youth--to rally September 29 in support the Habib family. With six Homeland Security trucks parked nearby, protesters held signs reading "Undocumented and unafraid," and chanted, "No papers, no fear! Immigrants are marching here!"

"This is so blatantly wrong," said Mona Khalil, a childhood friend of Nadia and member of the group Grassroots at Baruch College.

THE ORGANIZING efforts paid off the following day when Christopher Shanahan, the field officer director for New York ICE, announced that Nadia and Nazmin would be granted a one-year stay of removal.

Even as supporters of the Habib family rejoiced, family lawyer Aygul Charles sounded a cautionary note:

The stay of removal is not a permanent relief, and there still remains many hurdles to overcome before they can say they are permanent U.S. residents. There is still a big chance that Nadia and her mother will be deemed deportable after the expiration of the stay of removal. Also, the stay of removal can be lifted by ICE at any moment.

In other words, the Habib family is likely out of danger for now but will continue to live in the same limbo, they've faced since their bid for asylum was rejected in 2000.

Based on the statements of the Obama administration, it's unclear why ICE was attempting to deport Nadia and Nazmin in the first place. Last month, the White House announced that it would suspend deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants without criminal records. The decision was widely reported to be a response to the protests of "DREAM Act" students like Nadia who had come to the U.S. at a young age and hoped to go to college. The proposed DREAM Act is supposed to provide a path to legalization for these undocumented youth.

Shahad Haque, a friend of one of Nadia's siblings, held up a sign at the protest that read, "Obama: What Happened to the Memo?"

One possible reason: Obama gave "prosecutorial discretion" to ICE agents, and that might work against families from Bangladesh in particular, since the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part, is rife with anti-Muslim propaganda in its training materials.

Whatever the reason, NYSYCL organizer Tania Mattos said in an interview that her group has seen "no change" in the number of undocumented students being detained in the region.

A number of politicians at the press conference spoke about the injustice facing immigrants like the Habib family. "Nadia is a role model who represents the working class of the nation," Democratic City Council member Ydanis Rodriquez declared. "The immigration system is broken. This is an opportunity for President Obama and Democrats and Republicans to say we need immigration reform."

But similar calls have been made since Obama took office, with no result other than a doubling in the rate of deportations from the Bush presidency.

Hopefully, the activists fighting the family-wreckers at 26 Federal Plaza will find even more allies and grassroots support from the Occupy Wall Street movement 10 blocks further south.

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