Sunday, September 25, 2005

For many immigrants, it has happened here

tnguyen
Author Tram Nguyen

We Are All Suspects:
Untold Stories from Immigrant Communities after 9/11

By Tram Nguyen; Foreword by Edwidge Danticat


Sometimes only stories enlighten. There are all sorts of statistics that should tell us how we have become a more isolated, closed-down nation since 9/11 -- for example overall foreign enrollment at U.S. universities fell 2.4 percent in the 2003–04 academic year, the first such decline in more than three decades.

But in this book we meet real people: among them, Abdullah and Sukra Osman of Minneapolis and Somalia; Ban Al-Wardi, once of Iraq, now of Los Angeles; Muhammed and Asmat Saeed of Manhattan, Toronto and Pakistan -- they all discover, mostly to their shock, that this country is not the place of opportunity and freedom they had believed. Xenophobia and racism, seized upon by a rightwing US government after trajedy, run unleashed, destroying the hopes their victims held on to as they worked to make new lives in North America.

Researchers will find the "timeline of major events and policies affecting immigrants and civil liberties" invaluable. But what those of us outside the affected immigrant communities don't usually have a chance to appreciate are the daily wounds inflicted by a hostile state: families divided, arbitrary disruptions of life, the anxiety of carrying the fear that any accident or unknown misstep may get you locked up and thrown out.

Sixteen year old Aleena Saeed was on her way to a medical career, had been accepted into a "gifted" program in her New York City high school. But after 9/11, she and her parents, refugees from Pakistan who were accused of no crime but whose immigration papers were incomplete because of backups in government offices, now await deportation back to dangers they fled. After attempts to regularize their status failed and their father was detained, the Saeeds await deportation from Canada. They have lost their friends, their home, and their livelihood, but for sixteen-year-old Aleena:

The worst part, she said, is "losing all your dreams."


Tram Nguyen, executive editor of Colorlines magazine, herself a refugee whose family fled Vietnam in the late 1970s, eventually becoming US citizens, captures these nightmarish stories in a gentle voice. The book is a must read for all of us worried about the path our country is taking; for immigrants of the wrong color, since 2001, it has happened here.

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