In defense of Queens fathers

Lucy Herschel reports on another battle in the ongoing effort to defend long-standing members of New York City's immigrant community from detention and deportation.

Riaz Talukder (second from right) and his family continue to resist his deportationRiaz Talukder (second from right) and his family continue to resist his deportation

AFTER A spate of deportations of Bangladeshi fathers in Queens, New York, activists are mobilizing to prevent another family from being torn apart.

Riaz Talukder, a 49-year-old Bangladeshi Muslim father, faces potential deportation at his next ICE check-in on November 20.

On October 18, several immigrant rights organizations held a public forum to raise awareness about Talukder's case and about the fear coursing through immigrant communities generally. The following day, a group of people accompanied Talukder to an ICE check-in. When he returned, the crowd heaved a sigh of relief, but the road ahead is still a difficult one.

The lingering uncertainty is especially painful for Talukder because he fears what might happen to his two U.S.-born children, 15-year-old Rafi and 11-year-old Radi, and his wife, who is undergoing ongoing treatment for thyroid cancer, if he is eventually deported.

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THE TALUKDERS' case highlights the arbitrary and cruel nature of the chaotic and ever-shifting rules that make up the U.S. immigration system today. Talukder was brought to this country as a minor and has built a life in Queens over the span of decades. In 1990, he qualified for relief under the CSS late amnesty program and was able to live and work in the U.S. even as he traveled back and forth to Bangladesh.

During one such trip to Bangladesh, he received death threats from a political organization there, leading him to file for asylum on his return to the U.S. Unfortunately, in 1999, changes in policy and ineffective counsel led to a deportation order being issued against Talukder in absentia.

He was not even aware of this order until August 18, 2010, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out a pre-dawn raid of his home and took him away, as his two terrified children looked on.

After several months, he was released from detention under an order of supervision mandating him to regularly check in with ICE--in order to be informed whether or not he is going to be allowed to stay in this country or be torn away from his life and family.

During the Obama administration, he had to check in every year. Since Trump's election, it's been every one to three months.

According to Public Radio International, Talukder is one of 2.3 million people in this country living under an order of supervision requiring them to check in with ICE officials who wield the power to change their lives with the stroke of a pen.

In many ways, these are the easiest people for the Trump administration to deport because they come regularly to ICE to check in, and because many have exhausted the main legal options for relief, making the deportation process itself swifter.

The Talukders are also just one of a spate of Bangladeshi families in Queens being torn apart by ICE. The Talukders' case came to the attention of local activists through SMART Academia, a tutoring company with offices throughout Queens where Talukders' children have studied. On October 11, two other Bangladeshi fathers of four SMART Academia students were deported.

Bablu Sharif, calling his family after his arrival in Bangladesh, reported that he was among 41 Bangladeshis deported that day, 11 from Queens, almost all fathers with deferred deportation orders. One was a 70-year-old man in a wheelchair.

Sharif was the sole breadwinner for his family, and he now faces an uncertain future in a country in which he has not lived for 25 years and where he has no property, no family and no prospects.

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IN THE days before Talukder's check-in, community activists mobilized support. Representatives from SMART Academia accompanied the Talukders to the offices of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Gregory Meeks, who both pledged their support for him and his family. The Talukders have also received support from various local and national politicians who agreed to speak with ICE officials in order to advocate on their behalf.

On October 18, the Jackson Heights Immigrants Solidarity Network held a forum at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, that featured speakers from the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York, the Proyecto Justicia Laboral, Make the Road NY, Black Lives Matter, the United Federation of Teachers, and the PS 69Q Parents' Association as well as representatives of local and national politicians.

The Talukders, along with the wives of other recently deported Bangladeshi men, were on hand to tell their story.

When 15-year-old Rafi got up from where he was sitting with his parents, walked to the front of the room and poured his heart out to the audience, there wasn't a dry eye left. He told about the fear that he has felt ever since the day he answered the door in August 2010 and ICE agents entered his home and took his father away.

Speakers at the forum discussed the need for solidarity with all undocumented people in this country. Talukder has no criminal record, has had a work permit and has even paid income taxes for most of his time in the U.S.

However, as event organizer Laura Villa explained, the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network opposes all deportations, regardless of an individual's particular life circumstances or criminal record.

Denise Romero, a DACA recipient and member of the International Socialist Organization, also spoke about the demand for dignity for all immigrants:

Only 100 years ago, immigrants were allowed to vote in both federal and local elections. The right to vote was a right that was lost to immigrants. It wasn't until the late 1970's that immigrants were required to have papers to work. The right to work was also a right that we lost. So when we are fighting for immigrant rights, we are not fighting to prove that we deserve this. I hope that we are fighting to prove that these are rights that should never have been taken away in the first place.

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THE NEXT morning, members of the New Sanctuary Coalition, Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network and Desis Rising up and Moving (DRUM) mobilized to accompany Talukder to his ICE check-in at 26 Federal Plaza. The New Sanctuary Coalition runs an accompaniment program that regularly supports people during their ICE check-ins, helping to shine a light on the inner working of the ICE offices there.

"Since last night until now, I got a lot of help. A lot of organizations, lawyers, everyone is trying to help me out," said Talukder as we gathered outside the towering federal building. "I feel good about that. Of course, when I go inside I always feel nervous. With everyone with me, I feel a little bit less nervous."

However, he said he had no idea what was going to happen and recounted his last time in detention:

My kids were crying all the time, my wife was crying all the time. When they came to visit me, my younger son wanted to touch me, but couldn't touch me because there was a partition. They went home and he was sick all the time, vomiting all the time...It's not fair. I'm not born in the USA, but I feel like I'm born in the USA. I have my kids, my wife. If the parents are gone, how are the kids going to survive?

While we weren't all able to stay with Talukder in the waiting room where he had to report, we regularly sent members of our team in to check on him and to show the officers the community support he had. Thankfully, he was seen quickly, and we did not have to wait for long to get the good news that he was not detained at this check in.

However, as his attorney Edward Cuccia explained to us afterward, the rest of the news is not good. Talukder's petition for stay of removal on humanitarian grounds was denied, and he was given a one-month extension to report again with his passport and a one-way ticket to Bangladesh.

"One month is not enough," Cuccia explained. "We need five to six years. There is a direct pathway for Talukder to get his green card, to be a citizen one day. He needs his child to be 21 years old. His son is only 15. Immigration is not going to wait. We need to make them wait. We got a month. We need to [file all the legal paper work] and...need do the outreach to the Senators, to Congresspeople, to the community. We need to come back on November 19 with an upwell of support."

Thus, the struggle continues.

Janice Hoseini of the New Sanctuary Coalition was on hand for the check-in and knows firsthand what this struggles looks like, having successfully fought her husband's deportation for the past two years.

"It's only a fight if you train yourself to be a fighter," she said. "Because this is a beast that no one wants to go up against. I went through this under both administrations, under the Obama administration and the Trump administration."

"You have to say to yourself--and understand--that this is your stomping ground," she continued. "Whether you have the document that says you are a citizen or permanent resident, this is where your feet are, on this soil. This is your land, and no one's going to move you. Put an anchor to your ankles and that's it."

Luckily, the Talukders have support in their effort. The activist groups involved are working together to continue to organize community support to expose and resist this injustice. Efforts are also underway to support the families of the men who have been deported, including a pledge of financial support from Parents' Association of Public School 69, in Jackson Heights.

The Talukders are just one of millions of families living in uncertainty and fear that has only accelerated under the Trump administration. These cases must be recorded and they must be resisted.

To stay updated about his case, check out the Facebook page of the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network.