The 7/20 ID issue has a link to a 7/18 article in the Huffington Post called "Americans Married To Immigrants Push For Reform". Among other items, it relates the story of Hope Mustakim, an American citizen married for the past year to Nazry Mustakim, a 31 year old immigrant from Singapore who was brought to the US legally as a child and has had a green card since 1992. Like many other people caught in the trap of IIRIRA, the harsh immigration law rammed through a Republican-controlled Congress in late September 1996 in the dead of night without debate, and attached to a "must pass" military appropriations bill barely over a month before a presidential election, Nazry is facing deportation because of a minor drug possession conviction dating from the time he was a teenager.
Even though he has been drug free for the past five years, according to the article, Nazry faces deportation because an immigration judge has no discretion to grant relief in this kind of case. Nazry is now in immigration detention and his American wife can only see him through a glass window. This is, certainly, a heart-breaking story, but many of us have become desensitized because stories like this are so common. One does not even need a drug conviction to be guilty of an "aggravated felony" triggering mandatory revocation of one's green card and automatic deportation. A couple of drunk driving convictions may be enough.
Then why mention this story at all? "American family is broken up by draconian anti-immigrant law imposing drastic consequences for dark-skinned foreign citizen convicted of relatively minor offense years ago." What else is new? Forget that not only the rights of immigrants are involved in this type of case, but the right of an American citizen to choose whom to marry, something that the Supreme Court, in a different context, has held to be among our most cherished and fundamental liberties.
Forget the injustice of tearing someone away from his family and banishing him from this country forever for a crime that, if committed by an American, would most likely result in nothing more than a short jail term at worst. We are all too used to this kind of inhumanity in our immigration system, to the practice of treating immigrants as if they were less than fully human, to make much of a fuss about it. There was a time in Europe when a child could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. Get over it. Life moves on.
The point of this comment, therefore, is not to reflect on the harshness and cruelty of the deportation action that Nazry Mustakim is facing, along with untold hundreds of thousands, or millions, of other foreign born people in similar situations. Instead I will focus on only two aspects of the article. First, why was a harsh immigration law such as IIRIRA passed at the time that it was?Surely not for economic reasons. Has anyone heard about the "Great Depression of 1996?" I haven't. Maybe I missed something.
What about terror? Yes, that was a concern, and a legitimate one. The World Trade Center had been attacked in 1993. But it would be another five years before September 11, 2001. IIRIRA had some anti-terror provisions, but that was not the main reason for its passage. The main reason, or at least one of the main reasons, was to trap immigrants like Nazry Mustakim, who was neither a terrorist, a violent criminal, nor posing any danger to society, for minor crimes, and use these minor crimes as an excuse to kick them out of the country.
To put it plainly, IIRIRA was enacted in large part becasue of a white "backlash" over the fact that for the previous three decades, since 1965, America had started to welcome immigrants from every corner of the globe, regardless of skin color. Many articles and comments written at that time in the popular media, not to mention a book such as Peter Brimelow'a anti-immigrant "Alien Nation" leave no doubt about that.
The other point that is striking about the Nazry and Hope Mustakim story is the reaction to it among Huffington Post readers. As we all know, the Huffington Post is not exactly Fox News. Far from being a right wing hate site, the Huffpost is considered among the more liberal publications in America, and is certainly sympathetic to immigrants. Otherwise, this story would not have been published at all. Therefore it is all the more shocking (if one can be shocked by anything in immigration today) that there were so many hate comments left by Huffpost readers in reaction to the story.
Aside from the predictable comments of the "Criminal go home!" variety, there was a slew of vitriolic attacks against Nazry for being an "illegal alien" despite the fact that he came to the US legally as a child and has been a lawful permanent resident for almost 20 years. Other comments attacked the couple's "fake marriage", even though there was no question that the relationship was genuine. As if to underscore that point, Hope Mustakim posted replies to many of the negative, hate filled comments, patiently pointing out Nazry's positive accomplishments - overcoming addiction, helping to support her children, even though they were from her previous marriage, always having been in America legally, etc.
It is as if Hope Mustakim had to remind the other blog posters that her husband is a human being, something that neither they, nor our deportation-addicted immigration system, seem willing to accept. Hate vs. humanity - the struggle for immigrant rights continues.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.