Thursday, April 07, 2005

Is this "terrorism" or assimilation gone sour?

Artist Deborah Kelly, 2003

One of my favorite reporters, Nina Bernstein of the New York Times, has turned a spotlight on yet another case in which fear, confusion, and racial/cultural ignorance have swept up immigrant children as threats to national security.

Two 16-year-old girls from New York City were arrested last month and charged with immigration violations after the F.B.I. asserted that they intended to become suicide bombers… the F.B.I. believed the girls presented "an imminent threat to the security of the United States based upon evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers."

Even "government officials" doubt this case has any substance.

"There are doubts about these claims, and no evidence has been found that such a plot was in the works," said the government official in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case involves a pending legal matter. A senior law enforcement official in New York voiced the same doubts.

Parents of one of the girls apparently went to the police because they were having trouble dealing with their daughter, a fairly common event when immigrant parents confront US-acculturated children. That encounter led them into a Kafkaesque maze.

Police detectives, and then federal immigration agents, searched her belongings and confiscated her computer and the essays that she had written as part of a home schooling program, according to the family. One essay concerned suicide. The family maintained that the essay asserted that suicide is against Islamic law, but it led investigators to question her sharply about her political beliefs.… The mother said her daughter would be schooled at home and was seeking a high school equivalency degree because of conflicts between her Islamic dress code - a full veil - and the school's dress code.

According to the family, the detectives, who had no warrant, searched the house and the teenager's belongings. …

Last night, a 20-year-old woman friend of the Bangladeshi teenager said she had known the young woman for three years and was close to her. Told of the allegations, she responded in disbelief, "That's crazy."

Maybe not crazy -- just par for the course these fear-ridden days.

Update -- More from NYT, April 8

The father, a Bangladeshi watch salesman who describes himself as far more devoted to American education than to prayer after 13 years as an immigrant illegally in the United States, said he pushed for his daughter to return to public school.

Then last fall, the daughter he also describes as loving Bollywood soap operas and shopping with girlfriends startled him and her mother by seeking their approval to marry a young American Muslim man they had never met and whom she barely knew. The father refused the marriage overtures, which were made by the young man's father in a call from Michigan. A few months later, when the teenager stayed out overnight for the first time, the father, fearing an elopement, went to the police for help.

It is a decision he regrets deeply.

Next thing the family knew, federal agents we rumaging through the teenager's bedroom!

The story about the second girl is even more bizarre:

Little is known about the second 16-year-old. The mother of the Bangladeshi girl, conveying her daughter's account, said the two girls met for the first time at 26 Federal Plaza after her daughter's arrest. But when the other girl, a Guinean who was facing deportation with her family, noticed her daughter's veil, she gave her a traditional Muslim greeting, and federal agents seemed to think they were friends. The second girl ended up in the Pennsylvania detention center, too.

It gets worse. These young women are in a legal black hole.

There are no firm time limits on immigration detention, so the burden is on the girls to prove that they are not potential suicide bombers, rather than on the government to prove they are.…

The girls have no right to a court-appointed lawyer, and according to the government document that described the Guinean girl, her family had not retained one.

The Bangladeshi girl's father, who sells cheap watches wholesale and, he said, earns less than $16,000 a year, hired a New York immigration lawyer for $2,500. But the lawyer declined to attend her first hearing, according to a motion he filed seeking to handle the matter "telephonically," because of "time constraints."

They are seeking another lawyer.

Land of the free and the home of the brave, huh?


someone else said...

I don't know where you're located, but if you're interested in getting more involved with this kind of work (and possibly this situation), I can point you to some people. I used to do immigration/detention/deportation-related activism.

deborah said...

hallo there, from sydney, australia. I'm the artist whose work you have under the headline:
"Is this "terrorism" or assimilation gone sour?".
I thought you might be interested to know the historical context of that work. A couple of years ago now, a NSW state politician, The Rev. Fred Nile, suggested that muslim schoolgirls here be prevented from wearing hijab to school. Some other far-right (all Christian) pollies chimed in, suggesting that ALL muslim women be banned from covering their heads, because they might be hiding bombs. Truly.
The national leader, John Howard, did not discourage this thinking. Groups of young -"christian"- men in cars were reported cruising the streets of high muslim population areas in western sydney, and tearing the veils off women they found there.
The matchbox work was a riposte, especially to those participants in this racist furore who identify as Christian.

Many hundreds of the matchboxes were made, by all kinds of people, and left for people to find in cafes, clubs, bus shelters, etc.

(it's really a longer story than this, but those are the most salient points) & here's another part of it online:

janinsanfran said...

Deborah -- thanks for amplifying the story of your art here! I would urge anyone reading this to follow Deborah's link -- you can download a pdf kit there to make your own matchboxes.

Yesterday the New York Times published a pretty good editorial about the detention of the two 16 year immigrants. I am so glad this story is getting some attention; I was afraid it would just disappear, like the teenagers.

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