Tag Archives: Security

An Immigrants Tale

A couple of days ago, I bought my right to vote for 800 dollars. It was the penultimate step after 7 years of living in the United States, and this story could hardly be repeated anywhere else.
I arrived in the U.S. on a student visa. I was not allowed to work anywhere outside of the university, which posed a major problem for paying tuition.  So in the summer of my freshman year, I traveled down to a sleepy little tourist town on the tip of Long Island and got a job working for Dunkin Donuts. The shop was one of a few owned by a distant relative who migrated penniless from Bangladesh decades ago and now was the epitome of the American dream; a house, a pool, a Jaguar and two unbearably bratty children. I was paid cash and slept on a ratty couch with a few other ‘illegals’. To conserve money, I would eat local – 3 meals a day of as many variations of bagels and cream cheese I could invent, furtively devoured in the back room. Kindly old ladies would leave Christian pamphlets in the bathroom, suggesting we should let Jesus take the wheel (of our lives, I was guessing).
Through a bizarre coincidence (perhaps it was Jesus), at the end of my summer, I got a call from Bangladesh. My immigration application, filed 20 something years ago by my aunt, had been approved and I needed to go back home for an interview. I was faced with a rather stark choice – stay in school as a foreign exchange student, or drop out, go back home and gamble on the biggest prize of all – citizenship in the United States of America.
Next Week-  The thrilling anti-climax!
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The Politics of Security

It was the fall of 2002, and despite the murmurs of discontent from the few that knew about it (ACLU and a few left wing bloggers), the Government was quietly implementing what it called Special Registration.

Unknown to most Americans, any non-citizen Muslim males aged 18 to 45 from a select short list of countries were required to report post-haste to the nearest FBI headquarters to be fingerprinted, photographed and ‘interviewed’.  Furthermore, I had to report back to the Federal authorities once a year, and I could only leave the U.S. from a select group of airports making sure to let them know well in advance that I was in fact, planning to go to Cancun for Spring Break.

The entire registration episode and its antics aside, I was amused to find the chagrin and sympathy of so many the more public these proceedings became. In WWII, the Japanese had been hauled off to internment camps.  Quite simply put, males of my color and background had attacked the U.S. with a level of violence and spectacle unparalleled since Pearl Harbor and the government was reacting the best way a government can react – ham-handed but well-meaning.
The Special Registration program registered 82,851 people, deporting about 13,000 of them, mostly on frivolous and trivial grounds of visa overstays and parking tickets. Hundreds, including myself, were detained for inordinate amounts of time without any explanation or access to lawyers or phones.  It was a failure, as it only stuck around for a year and a half before the government abolished it in part because it was getting overwhelmed, and in part because it discovered more subtle, effective ways to keep a watch on us (that includes you, my non-brown, non-Muslim friends!).

For a short while after 9/11, the population felt safe knowing we had a list of potential bad guys, and the government felt like it was doing something to keep us safe.

Special Registration

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