Family Battles ICE For The Same Reason They Fled Their Home: They're Muslim

Written by on February 20, 2021

One of many first instances Muhammad was harassed for being Muslim ― and there have been many instances ― was in his residence nation of Tajikistan. He was 23 years previous. It was August 2014, and he’d returned residence from Russia, the place he was dwelling and dealing, for his upcoming wedding ceremony. Sooner or later whereas out purchasing, he was stopped by the Tajik KGB, who introduced him in for questioning.

At their places of work, Muhammad says, he was interrogated for almost six hours, verbally abused and accused of being an anti-government extremist, just because he was Muslim. The lads set hearth to his beard.

They visited Muhammad a couple of months later at his residence, he says, the place they once more accused him of being an extremist. He was crushed, slapped within the face and threatened with arrest on spiritual extremism expenses. From there he fled to Russia, the place he encountered but extra anti-Muslim harassment.

In 2020, Muhammad ― alongside along with his spouse, Aida, and their kids ― ultimately made it to Mexico, the place he hoped they might acquire entry to the USA and search asylum there. However he discovered himself detained once more and separated from his household, this time by the Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Muhammad” and “Aida” are pseudonyms; the immigration advocacy group RAICES has shared Muhammad’s full identify with HuffPost for the needs of our investigation. HuffPost has agreed to make use of aliases in gentle of the truth that the household’s asylum case continues to be ongoing.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden issued an govt order to extend refugee admissions to 125,000, a gaggle anticipated to incorporate many individuals fleeing violence, humanitarian crises and persecution ― folks like Muhammad and his household. The order is Biden’s first step in rebuilding the nation’s refugee program after a collection of blows applied by former President Donald Trump, who spent years demonizing refugees and who reduce admissions to a report low cap of 15,000. Some consultants and advocates have applauded Biden for taking step one to restoring admissions, however he nonetheless faces a collection of challenges to undo the years of injury.

It’s unclear what number of Muslims like Muhammad are presently in detention, as ICE doesn’t preserve observe of immigrants primarily based on faith. Nevertheless, Muslim detainees throughout the nation have reported and sued over spiritual maltreatment, together with being compelled to eat pork and being denied prayer providers or the fitting to go masking.

Muhammad's wife, Aida, poses for a portrait with their children on Feb. 4, 2021.

Muhammad’s spouse, Aida, poses for a portrait with their kids on Feb. 4, 2021.

The Intersection Of Immigration And Islamophobia

In June 2020, Muhammad and his household introduced themselves at a U.S. port of entry, looking for asylum. They have been apprehended by immigration authorities and processed at Karnes County Residential Middle in Texas, Muhammad informed HuffPost through a translator in January.

The household was interviewed by an asylum officer who decided they’d a optimistic credible concern, step one wanted in an asylum utility to ascertain that a person faces persecution or torture again of their nation of origin. The household was attributable to be launched after the findings, however immigration officers solely launched Aida, who was pregnant on the time, and their kids. Muhammad was denied launch and transferred to an grownup detention middle in Laredo, Texas. Officers informed him they wanted to confirm extra data.

However based on his attorneys, immigration officers suspected Muhammad of posing a hazard to the neighborhood for a similar purpose he was persecuted to start with: He was Muslim.

The pervasive affect of Islamophobia within the American immigration system has compounded right into a collection of challenges for Muslim immigrants like Muhammad, who say they aren’t given an opportunity to show their asylum circumstances due to preconceived notions about their religion.

For many years, Muslim immigrants have been focused by structural and institutional limitations applied by way of immigration legal guidelines, which have been solely amplified within the post-9/11 period. Problems with racial profiling and non secular discrimination have been additional exacerbated from 2017 onward, as Trump put anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment on the middle of his presidency. And whereas Biden has taken the primary steps to reverse lots of Trump’s anti-immigrant insurance policies, researchers and consultants say the harm has already been completed, and will take months if not years to undo.

“Islam is considered as inherently inconsistent with the Structure of the USA, which implies that Islam is just not considered as a faith or a religion, however as a race and a hostile political ideology, somewhat than the various ethnic and racial identities that Muslims maintain,” stated Nahid Soltanzadeh, a digital organizer at MPower Change, a grassroots Muslim-led advocacy group.

Muslim immigrants are routinely seen as potential dangers, somewhat than human beings fleeing persecution, Soltanzadeh stated, making it tougher for immigrants like Muhammad to cope with a system that’s biased towards them.

“[Immigration officials] determined that the persecution that he suffered made him a nationwide safety risk and a possible terrorist risk ― which was very, very alarming, as a result of that was the abuse that he was struggling and that was how they have been persecuting him as a younger Muslim man,” stated Nicole Morgan, affiliate legal professional within the household detention division of RAICES, who’s representing the household.

The surplus of misinformation regarding immigration and Islamophobia, significantly underneath the Trump administration, made it almost unattainable for asylum-seekers to have a good probability in immigration court docket and with the general public, Morgan stated. In the meantime, the elevated energy granted to ICE and immigration authorities allowed them to behave on preconceived notions with impunity.

“The common American doesn’t even know who these persons are, as a result of they’re being fed a lie and a misrepresentation of our purchasers,” Morgan stated. “In the event that they met them and even heard a tenth of their story, they might open their properties to them, not to mention our nation.”

In this Feb. 4 photo, Aida opens the door of the San Antonio shelter where she and her children are staying.

On this Feb. Four picture, Aida opens the door of the San Antonio shelter the place she and her kids are staying.

The Crackdown On Non secular Freedoms Escalates 

Human rights and non secular freedoms have had a unstable historical past in Tajikistan because the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving problems with media censorship, a crackdown on authorities critics and the nation’s uneasy relationship with its personal Islamic roots. Through the years, the federal government has made varied makes an attempt to limit spiritual observe.

In 2009, the federal government handed a legislation formalizing a ban on feminine college students carrying the hijab. In 2011, authorities banned anybody underneath 18 years of age from attending any type of spiritual service. The federal government started to shut down unregistered mosques all through the nation.

In accordance with the State Division’s 2019 Report on Worldwide Non secular Freedom, the U.S. authorities has acknowledged the pervasive harassment Muslims face in Tajikistan and the curbing of spiritual freedoms there. In 2016, the report designated Tajikistan a “Nation of Explicit Concern” underneath the Worldwide Non secular Freedom Act, a standing it has held by way of the publication of the 2019 report, the latest.

The State Division’s report for Russia isn’t any higher, noting that the Russian authorities has the facility to ban the exercise of spiritual associations for “violating public order or partaking in ‘extremist exercise.’”

The human rights scenario in Tajikistan took a flip for the more serious after the federal government banned an opposition social gathering in 2015 and declared it a terrorist group with out credible proof, based on Human Rights Watch. 

The federal government perceived religious Muslims as being related to political teams that threatened the facility of the present authorities, stated Syinat Sultanalieva, the Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Authorities harassed ladies carrying hijabs and males with beards. Mosques and non secular facilities have been subjected to police raids, surveillance and compelled closures ― an try by authorities officers to control Islam for extremist actions, regardless of outcry from critics that such rules have been politically motivated and a transparent violation of private spiritual freedoms.

As soon as Muhammad heard rumors that the federal government was concentrating on his native mosque amid its crackdown, he stopped going, fearing retaliation. In 2013, these rumors have been confirmed true after police raided his sister’s residence, arrested his sister and her spouse, and shut down their middle. By then, Muhammad had simply moved to Russia, the place he was a twin citizen, searching for security and work.

Aida's two elder children play at the shelter while their mother cooks dinner on Feb. 4.

Aida’s two elder kids play on the shelter whereas their mom cooks dinner on Feb. 4.

Fleeing To Russia

In November 2014, Muhammad and Aida moved to Russia, however even there the harassment by the Tajik officers didn’t cease. Muhammad says the boys often visited his mother and father’ residence, demanding they name their son and coerce him again to Tajikistan.

However Muhammad couldn’t return. He knew he’d be arrested instantly, he stated. He modified his quantity to evade the Tajik safety forces’ calls and threats. He discovered work as a supply driver in 2015 for a dairy firm. Aida gave start to a daughter in October 2015, and a son in October 2017. For some time, life grew to become regular once more.

One November night in 2017, Muhammad and Aida held an Islamic child bathe, a welcoming ceremony historically held after a start, with shut family and friends. Two hours into the celebration, Russian law enforcement officials confirmed up and informed them their spiritual ceremony was towards the legislation. The officers searched the home and the friends and arrested Muhammad and Aida.

The couple was interrogated. Aida, who didn’t communicate Russian, was compelled to signal a doc admitting she violated public order. She was launched, however Muhammad was held a number of extra days and interrogated about his Islamic beliefs. Russian police confiscated his Quran as supposed proof of his extremism, an allegation that Muhammad discovered astonishing.

Muhammad says he was slapped, shocked with a stun gun and disadvantaged of sleep over the course of three days by Russian authorities who accused him of wanting to hitch and recruit for ISIS ― all of which he vehemently denied. He handed over his cellphone and social media login data, in hopes that the police would clear him of wrongdoing.

Ultimately, Muhammad signed papers he was not allowed to learn, and was launched. However the harassment didn’t cease. He says Russian police tracked him all over the place he went, calling each month demanding to know his whereabouts. They confirmed up at his home and searched it and not using a warrant. Regulation enforcement and members of the Russian authorities stopped him within the streets and requested him who he was visiting. They have been at all times watching, they informed him.

Aida receives a collect call from her husband from the detention center and speaks to him for about 10 minutes on Feb. 4.

Aida receives a acquire name from her husband from the detention middle and speaks to him for about 10 minutes on Feb. 4.

In March 2018, Muhammad says, he was taken once more to the police station, the place he was handcuffed with different males who he assumes have been additionally Muslim. He watched the police beat these males and drag them out of the room. He by no means noticed the boys once more.

Muhammad was additionally crushed and shocked a number of instances, he says. The officers accused him once more of being an ISIS member. Muhammad denied the accusations and informed them he denounced extremism in all varieties. After days of interrogation and torture, Muhammad was coerced into signing extra paperwork and was ultimately launched.

Deniz Yuksel, Turkey advocacy specialist at Amnesty Worldwide USA, informed HuffPost that the Russian authorities has persecuted spiritual minorities like Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that Muhammad’s case dovetails with what is understood concerning the deterioration of spiritual freedom there.

The crackdown on spiritual minority teams is “a part of a broader assault by the federal government on communities and ideologies that they imagine are both in opposition to them straight politically, or opposition to the standard Orthodox Christian values,” Yuksel stated.

The police by no means stopped harassing and torturing Muhammad, who tried to clear his identify every time he was apprehended. He says he filed a grievance towards the officers who tortured him, with none success. As an alternative, the harassment escalated. The police continued to look his residence unexpectedly. He started to obtain calls from unknown numbers, from individuals who spewed Islamophobic insults at him and mocked his Tajik background.

“They by no means left us to dwell peacefully. All the time calling, at all times watching,” stated Aida, who informed HuffPost she knew they have been focused attributable to their Muslim religion.

“Particularly as a result of we have been working towards Muslims. My husband had a beard and I wore a shawl, so you’ll be able to clearly see that we’re working towards Muslims,” she stated. She was nervous that any day her husband can be taken away and unfairly jailed.

In August 2018, Aida’s Russian residency was canceled, and was solely reinstated after the couple employed a lawyer. They moved to a brand new metropolis, hoping to evade police, however have been ultimately discovered. Over the last spherical of threatening calls and visits, members of legislation enforcement informed Muhammad that in the end, he was going to be put in jail for extremism ― in retaliation for the grievance he’d filed towards them.

It was at that second that Muhammad realized he couldn’t keep in Russia any longer. In August 2019, Muhammad, Aida and their two kids deserted the whole lot they’d and commenced their journey to Mexico ― and to their ultimate vacation spot, America.

Muhammad spends time with his wife and three children at the San Antonio shelter.

Muhammad spends time along with his spouse and three kids on the San Antonio shelter.

Preventing For His Well being Throughout COVID-19

Though most migrants apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border are from Central America or Mexico, there was a rise of migrants from different continents. In accordance with numbers gathered by the Mexican authorities, greater than 670,000 migrants from Asia entered Mexico by way of authorized ports of entry in 2019. Most extra-continental migrants arrive in Central and South American international locations attributable to their lax visa necessities, based on the Migration Coverage Institute, a nonpartisan immigration suppose tank.

Muhammad and his household arrived in Mexico in August 2019, the place they have been detained by Mexican immigration for 3 months. By way of a translator, Aida informed HuffPost the circumstances within the detention facility have been insufferable for her and her kids. She was separated from her husband, and certainly one of her kids received sick from the dearth of warmth and scorching water, she says.

After they have been launched from detention, they rented an condominium for six months and labored to economize. In June 2020, they crossed into America on the Calexico Port of Entry, looking for asylum. The household was processed at Karnes County Residential Middle in Texas, and a month later, Aida and the kids have been launched. Muhammad, nonetheless, was detained and transferred to the Laredo Detention Middle.

Affected by kidney malfunction and abdomen pains, Muhammad’s well being grew worse in detention. He was identified with hypothyroidism, diabetes and a potential autoimmune dysfunction, based on his attorneys. His kidney ache grew to become extra extreme, and he handled urinary incontinence, weight reduction and bladder ache. Every time, he was solely given painkillers and never handled for the underlying circumstances. In July, Muhammad examined optimistic for the coronavirus.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is dedicated to making sure the welfare of all these within the company’s custody, together with offering entry to mandatory and applicable medical care,” an ICE spokesperson informed HuffPost in an emailed assertion. “Complete medical care is offered to all people in custody.”

Detainees with medical circumstances “can count on well timed and applicable responses to emergent medical requests, and well timed medical care applicable to the anticipated size of detention,” the spokesperson wrote.

Muhammad informed HuffPost that he was served pork ― which many Muslims don’t eat, in accordance with their religion ― and denied halal meals, typically forcing him to go and not using a meal, which exacerbated his well being circumstances.

Muhammad and his elder daughter at the shelter in San Antonio.

Muhammad and his elder daughter on the shelter in San Antonio.

“Him being a younger Muslim man and the Islamophobia that has simply permeated our politics and our immigration system, he’s completely affected by that,” stated Morgan, the RAICES legal professional. “[The U.S. government] has no proof or perhaps a credible purpose to imagine he’s a risk to the USA, however but they’re treating him with such hostility.”

The ICE spokesperson informed HuffPost that individuals “held on the facilities obtain three meals every day utilizing menus developed by a registered dietician, who guarantee particular person distinctive well being (included allergy symptoms), dietary, and non secular wants are met.”

Muhammad was denied parole 4 instances in 2020 ― as soon as in July, twice in October and once more in December. Aida was nervous consistently. “We thought this is able to be the most secure place the place we may come and discover our safety,” she informed HuffPost.

The couple spoke on the telephone almost day-after-day, Muhammad from detention and Aida from a San Antonio church that was sponsoring her and her kids and giving them a spot to remain. In January, Aida gave start to their third youngster, a child woman, with out her husband by her aspect. Their 5-year-old daughter and their 3-year-old son requested their mom day-after-day the place their father was. She didn’t know find out how to reply them, so the kids began to ask members of the church.

“My children are struggling. It’s stress and fixed torture to not know the place their father is,” Muhammad stated. “It’s painful for me to know that my children suppose I’ve disappeared.”

Looking out For Residence

On Friday, Feb. 5, Muhammad acquired a be aware telling him to name his lawyer. His coronary heart sank. He thought one thing was flawed ― both along with his case or his household. 

However his attorneys had excellent news: He was being launched.

At first, he couldn’t imagine what he’d heard. The information shocked him to the purpose the place he was bodily unable to talk and his lawyer thought the road had disconnected. As an alternative of speaking, Muhammad broke down in sobs.

Just a few days later, Muhammad was launched and made his technique to the San Antonio shelter to reunite along with his household. As he approached, he noticed his son enjoying with toys, however his son didn’t acknowledge him. Quickly, Aida got here sprinting over. The couple embraced for the primary time in months. Neither of them spoke between the hugs and kisses. They couldn’t discover the phrases.

Between congratulations from members of the church and shelter, and after downing a glass of fruit juice, Muhammad met his new child daughter for the primary time. He held her in his arms and apologized tearfully to her, time and again, for lacking her start. He swore to her, and the remainder of his kids, to make up for the misplaced time. He promised his elder daughter he would educate her how to attract and paint ― a brand new interest she has picked up. He promised Aida he would by no means depart her aspect once more.

ICE confirmed to HuffPost that Muhammad was launched on Feb. 8, however didn’t elaborate on his case or clarify what prompted the sudden change. 

Muhammad, now 30, stated he hopes immigration officers will lastly view his religion as a faith like another and never imagine the xenophobic stereotypes. In spite of everything, he stated, it was his religion that stored him hopeful throughout his time in detention.

“We’re glad that strain from the general public and a coalition of advocates in assist of [Muhammad] has compelled ICE to make the fitting determination and launch him to be along with his household,” stated Laila Ayub, the particular initiatives legal professional at RAICES’ household detention providers program.

“Nonetheless, [Muhammad]’s case is an instance of the xenophobia, Islamophobia, criminalization, and household separation inherent to immigration enforcement,” Ayub stated. “The immigration system, even underneath the Biden administration, permits ICE to justify the detention of somebody like [Muhammad] underneath the guise of nationwide safety. ICE’s evaluation of public security and nationwide safety is a superficial one rooted in white supremacy, and other people like [Muhammad] are nonetheless susceptible to detention and deportation even underneath the Biden administration’s new enforcement insurance policies.”

For now, Muhammad says he feels “bottomless gratitude” for his attorneys, the church members who cared for his household, and others. He needs to thank them “for giving me my life again and giving my kids their father again.”

Muhammad takes an afternoon nap the day after being released from detention, reuniting with his family in San Antonio and mee

Muhammad takes a day nap the day after being launched from detention, reuniting along with his household in San Antonio and assembly his 2-month-old daughter for the primary time.

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