Georgia Primary Election 2010

For me, the primary election season started with an early July 4 gift from the Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp asking me to submit proof of my citizenship. Strangely, I have actually voted in an election since I registered to vote. According to the letter, my driver license record doesn’t show that I am a citizen, which is true since I last renewed my license before I naturalized as a US citizen. Efficient that I am, I even called Driver Services after becoming a citizen to ask if I needed to do something to update their records, but they said to wait until the next renewal. Thus, I spent my July 4th (slight exaggeration) making copies of my passport to send to the county registrar.

Georgia is a fairly red state and I live in an even redder part of it. So there are a bunch of contests where there are either no Democrats running or just one running unopposed as the likely sacrificial lamb for the November general election. I have a rule about voting against unopposed candidates. I simply write in some name and never vote for anyone running unopposed.

Now on to who is running in the Democratic primaries and who I am voting for tomorrow.

US Senate:
Incumbent: Johnny Isakson, Republican, who’s running for reelection

Democrats running in the primary are R. J. Hadley and Mike Thurmond. While neither of them will likely have much of a chance in the general election, I am voting for Mike Thurmond.

U.S. Representative, District 6:
The incumbent, Tom Price, is running unopposed in the Republican primary and there are no Democratic candidates.

There are a bunch of candidates of which the two front-runners are former governor Roy Barnes (who lost his reelection bid in 2002 to current governor Sonny Perdue) and Attorney General Thurbert Baker.

I was planning on voting for Roy Barnes until he came out in support of the Arizona anti-immigrant law. Being an immigrant who has had his share of fuck-ups by USCIS, I am not at all in favor of states causing more problems for immigrants (both legal and illegal). Therefore, I am voting for Thurbert Baker.

Lt Governor:
Incumbent, L.S. Casey Cagle, is running unopposed in the Republican primary while Tricia Carpenter McCracken and Carol Porter.

Since I cannot find a website (or any other info) for McCracken, I am supporting Carol Porter.

Secretary of State:
Gail Buckner, the Democratic candidate in 2006 (who lost badly), is running again. Angela Moore, 3rd in teh crowded 2006 primary, is also running again. Gary Horlacher, the polygraph guy, is the most interesting candidate since he took a lie detector test to start off his campaign. There’s also Georganna Sinkfield.

I met Michael Mills at the start of the campaign season and liked him. So I am going to vote for Michael Mills.

Attorney General:
Ken Hodges and Rob Teilhet are running in the Democratic primary. I’ll vote for Rob Teilhet.

State School Superintendent:
None of the Democratic candidates, Beth Farokhi, Joe Martin, or Brian Westlake seem to be for education reform and testing, so I am in a quandary. I’ll likely vote for Brian Westlake.

Commissioner Of Labor:
Terry Coleman and Darryl Hicks are the two Democrats running. I’m planning to vote for Darryl Hicks.

Unopposed Statewide Races:
J.B. Powell is the only Democrat running for Commissioner of Agriculture while Mary Squires is the only one running for Commissioner of Insurance. Similarly, Keith Moffett is the only Democratic candidate for Public Service Commissioner, District 2 Eastern.

As is my practice, I’ll write in some random name in these races.

Georgia House District 46:
Paul Kennedy is the only Democratic candidate, so I won’t vote for him.

Georgia Senate District 56:
There is no Democratic candidate, but I have seen lots of signs for the three Republican candidates.

Fulton County Commission:
Commissioners for Districts 1 and 2 are elected at large in Fulton county. The Democratic candidates John Eaves (Dist 1) and Robert Pitts (Dist 2) are running unopposed in their primaries. Thus, I’ll write in someone random.

I live in District 3 where the only candidate for County Commissioner is Liz Hausmann running in the Republican primary.

Buy a House, Get a Green Card?

Some people are suggesting an immigration program “buy a house, get a green card” but I argue that their numbers are all wrong.

Last month, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times that:

Leave it to a brainy Indian to come up with the cheapest and surest way to stimulate our economy: immigration.

“All you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately improve your savings rate — no Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans.”

Alex Tabarrok called it the “buy a house, get a visa” strategy and claimed that:

the multiplier on the “buy a house, get a visa” strategy would be much larger than any possible domestic multiplier since the money would come from outside the economy (and efficiency would improve as well.)

An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal has now suggested the same.

The Obama administration should seriously consider granting resident status to foreigners who buy surplus houses in this country.

[…] A better idea is to offer permanent residence status to the many foreigners who are clamoring to get into the U.S. — if they buy houses of minimal values (not shacks). They wouldn’t need to live in those houses, but in order to remove the unit from the total housing market, they couldn’t rent them. Their temporary resident status granted upon purchase would become permanent after, perhaps, five years, if they still owned the houses and maintained clean records. The mere announcement of this program might well stop the ongoing collapse in house prices, especially in cities such as Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and San Francisco, where prices are down 40% — but where many foreigners like to live.

Each year, 85,000 H-1B visas are granted for foreigners with advanced skills and education, and last year, 163,000 petitions were filed in the first five days after applications were accepted. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation estimates that as of Sept. 30, 2006, 500,040 residents of the U.S. and 59,915 individuals living abroad were waiting for employment-based visas. Many would buy homes if their immigration conditions were settled.

[…] The blueprint for a program to sell surplus housing to immigrants is already in place with the EB-5 visa program. Each year, 10,000 EB-5 visas for this country are available for foreigners who each invest $1 million in a new enterprise ($500,000 in economically depressed areas) that creates at least 10 full-time jobs. After two years, the entrepreneur and his family can become permanent residents.

Of course, Alex Tabarrok liked it while Matthew Yglesias says:

I don’t think this idea is nearly the panacea that Gary Shilling and Richard LeFrak seem to think it is, but nevertheless a program to offer permanent resident status to foreigners who buy American houses does seem to me like a good idea.

John Mauldin goes completely overboard:

Let’s assume one million new immigrants would buy homes. At an average price of almost $200,000, that would be $200 billion injected into the economy. And each of those homes has to be furnished, food has to be bought, clothing will be needed, local taxes will be paid. Airplane tickets to research potential areas, hotels needed during the interim period, and other related expenditures would add up. Over two years, this could easily be another $100 billion.

I am not an economist and I’ll leave it to economists to discuss the multiplier and stimulative effects of this program. However, I am an immigrant and have looked at the immigration details in the US fairly extensively.

Let’s first look at the average number of immigrants per year to the US in the period 1998-2007: 935,948. It reached a peak of 1,266,129 in 2006 but was down to 1,052,415 in 2007. When 2008 data comes out, it is expected to go down further because of the economic conditions.

Contrary to Mauldin, these one million immigrants won’t all buy houses since the number of households is less than a million. The average household size in the US is 2.61. I remember reading that immigrant household size is larger but I can’t find that data right now, so using the US number, we get only about 400,000 households.

Before you start liking the 400,000 households number, remember that a majority (621,047 in 2007) of the immigrants were adjusting status, i.e. they were already in the US. At least some of those already bought a house since they were planning to immigrate. I know lots of H-1B visa holders who bought houses and later adjusted to permanent resident status.

The Wall Street Journal op-ed mentions an already existing investor immigrant program EB-5. Let’s look at its conditions:

10,000 immigrant visas per year are available to qualified individuals seeking permanent resident status on the basis of their engagement in a new commercial enterprise.

Of the 10,000 investor visas (i.e., EB-5 visas) available annually, 5,000 are set aside for those who apply under a pilot program involving an USCIS-designated Regional Center.

In general, “eligible individuals” include those

  1. Who establish a new commercial enterprise by:
    • Creating an original business;
    • Purchasing an existing business and simultaneously or subsequently restructuring or reorganizing the business such that a new commercial enterprise results; or
    • Expanding an existing business by 140 percent of the pre-investment number of jobs or net worth, or retaining all existing jobs in a troubled business that has lost 20 percent of its net worth over the past 12 to 24 months; and
  2. Who have invested — or who are actively in the process of investing — in a new commercial enterprise:
    • At least $1,000,000, or
    • At least $500,000 where the investment is being made in a “targeted employment area,” which is an area that has experienced unemployment of at least 150 per cent of the national average rate or a rural area as designated by OMB; and
  3. Whose engagement in a new commercial enterprise will benefit the United States economy and
    • Create full-time employment for not fewer than 10 qualified individuals; or
    • Maintain the number of existing employees at no less than the pre-investment level for a period of at least two years, where the capital investment is being made in a “troubled business,” which is a business that has been in existence for at least two years and that has lost 20 percent of its net worth over the past 12 to 24 months.

Now this EB-5 might have requirements that are too onerous and it’s always possible that the optimal investment is less than a million dollars and other conditions should be relaxed as well.

However, let us look at the number of immigrants admitted to the US under this program. The average number of EB-5 visas per year in the period 1998-2007 was 375. In 2007, the number of investor visas used was 806. This is not the number of investors, but of visas which includes family too. Let’s break down the numbers for 2007.

Adjustment of Status New Arrivals Total
Total EB-5 315 491 806
Investors 116 163 279
Spouses & children 187 328 515

As you can see, 10,000 visas per year were reserved for this investor program, but in the maximum used was about 8% of that. And the actual number of investors (not including dependents) in 2007 was only 279. Assuming the buy a house, get a green card program does a level of magnitude better because median house price (for 2005-7) is only about 181,800. Still, it would attract only about 3000 investors and their families. That would not do anything to the housing market or the US economy.

PS. The immigration numbers are from the 2007 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, specifically Table 6 and Table 7.

Free At Last

Let’s hear how I got naturalized in the United States.

This is the story of one fine cold day a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I woke up early and left home at 7:30am as I had to drive through rush hour traffic. It took me an hour to get to 2150 Parklake Dr. I went in, got through the metal detector and bag screening and took the elevator to the 2nd floor. The first thing I did there was to look for the restrooms. Then I waited.

My appointment was at 9:05am, but the interviewer came to get me at 9:35. I went to her office where I had to take an oath to tell the truth. She asked me for my driver’s license, passport and green card. Then she went over my application, asking about any changes. She also asked me if I had ever been a member of the Communist party or a terrorist organization, if I had ever been arrested, convicted, committed a crime or lied to the government. Then it was time for the test. She got the computer to print out 10 random questions about US civics, history and government. Those were real easy, but even easier were the one simple sentence she asked me to write and another that she asked me to read. She gave me a form telling me that I had passed the tests of English and US history and government and that my application has been recommended for approval. Then she asked if I wanted to be part of the oath ceremony the same day. Of course, I did. And so I was done in about 15 minutes.

I then sat in the waiting room for the oath letter for 45 minutes. When I got the letter, I realized I had time to kill as it was only 10:45 and the oath was at 2pm. I called Amber and we decided to go for lunch at Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro in Midtown. I had Spicy Lamb with Basil, which was spicy but was also very very tasty.

After lunch, I got back to the USCIS office and went to the room where the oath ceremony takes place. First, we had to check our naturalization certificates for any mistakes. Then we were all seated. Every seat had a packet which contained:

When all the prospective citizens were seated, their relatives who had come to witness the ceremony were called in.

The Field Office Director then talked a bit and told us that there were 110 people becoming citizens and they came from 44 countries. Then she called everyone to stand going by their country of origin. I couldn’t note down the list of countries represented there, but there were Afghanistan, Guyana, Iran, Ireland, Pakistan, Mexico, India, South Africa, Kampuchea, Ireland, Yugoslavia and others. Then all of us held up our right hands and repeated after the Director the oath of allegiance.

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

While we were taking the oath, the relatives who had come along were taking pictures.

And suddenly, we were all citizens of the United States. Then we recited the pledge of allegiance, which I have always liked without the words under God.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.

Then the Director reminded us of what we needed to do: Change status with the Social Security Administration, apply for a passport and register to vote.

Finally we saw a video welcome by President George W. Bush. On our way out, we took our naturalization certificates. The employees at the front desk and the security personnel congratulated us as we were leaving the building. I have never seen anyone at INS or USCIS act so courteous before.

Let’s get back to the title of this article: Free At Last! No, that doesn’t refer to the freedoms guaranteed by the US constitution. Instead, it celebrates my freedom from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). I have never seen a worse bureaucracy.

پاکستان میں اجنبی

میں پاکستان میں پیدا ہوا اور عمر کا ایک طویل عرصہ میں نے وہیں گزارا۔ پھر آج میں پاکستان میں اجنبی کیسے بن گیا؟ اس بار جب میں پاکستان گیا تو وہاں اپنے تو تھے مگر ملک اور شہر میں میں نے خود کو غیرملکی تصور کیا۔ شاید وقت نے مجھے بدل دیا ہے اور شاید پاکستان بھی آٹھ سال پہلے والا نہیں رہا۔

جب سے امریکہ آیا ہوں پاکستان کا یہ دوسرا دورہ تھا۔ ان آٹھ سالوں میں پاکستان بھی کافی بدل گیا ہے اور شاید میں بھی۔ اسی لئے اس دفعہ خود کو وہاں اجنبی محسوس کیا۔ کئی چیزیں بری لگیں اور کئی اچھی مگر اجنبیت ہر جگہ رہی۔

پاکستان میں پرائیویٹ کمپنیاں بھی گاہک کے ساتھ کیا کرتی ہیں اس کا اندازہ اسلام‌آباد ائرپورٹ پر ہی ہو گیا جب ایوس کار رینٹل سے کار لینے کے لئے گھنٹہ لڑنا پڑا۔ اس کے برعکس جب ہم جیولر کی دکان پر گئے تو اس نے پینے کو بھی پوچھا اور ہمارے ساتھ خاصا وقت صرف کیا۔

ائرپورٹ سے نکلے تو فضا میں آلودگی نے ہمارے پھیپڑوں کو شکار کیا۔ پھر یہ احساس بھی ہوا کہ اگرچہ میں نے گاڑی چلانی پاکستان میں سیکھی اور بہت عرصہ وہاں چلائی بھی مگر اب میں پاکستان کی ٹریفک کا عادی نہیں رہا۔ لوگوں کا کہنا تھا کہ وہاں ٹریفک بہت بڑھ گئی ہے مگر ہم اٹلانٹا سے گئے تھے ہمیں تو سڑک پر کاریں نظر ہی نہیں آئیں۔ ٹریفک کے قوانین کی کوئی پابندی نہیں کرتا مگر سب انتہائی سست رفتار سے چلتے ہیں۔ سڑکوں کا حال پہلے سے برا لگا مگر ہو سکتا ہے یہ میری غلط‌فہمی ہو۔

ایک چیز جس کا مین بالکل عادی نہیں رہا تھا وہ یہ ہے کہ پاکستان میں کوئی بھی بات ہو اسلام درمیان میں ضرور آ جاتا ہے۔ پھر جو ذرا سا بھی مذہبی ہو وہ اپنے آپ کو نیک سے نیک‌تر ثابت کرنے کی کوشش میں آپ کو رگڑ دیتا ہے۔ اسلام‌آباد اور اس کے گرد و نواح میں تو میں نے اسلام کی globalization بڑھتے دیکھی۔ دوپٹے یا چادر کی بجائے کالا سکارف عام ہے۔ ہارون یحیٰی کی تحریریں پھیل رہی ہیں۔

ایک چیز جس نے بہت تنگ کیا وہ یہ ہے کہ پاکستان میں لوگ کافی گھورتے ہیں۔ خواتین کا کہنا ہے کہ یہ ہمیشہ سے ہے مگر مجھے اس دفعہ محسوس ہوا۔ معلوم نہیں اس کی وجہ میرے لمبے بال تھے یا سر پر سینگ مگر بازار وغیرہ میں لوگوں کا گھورنا ایک آنکھ نہ بھایا۔

کچھ اور تبدیلیوں میں ایک کیبل ٹی‌وی بھی تھا۔ جب میں پاکستان میں تھا تو ٹی‌وی پر صرف دو چینل آتے تھے۔ اب کیبل پر بہت سے چینل تھے۔ کچھ پاکستان کے تھے، کچھ انڈین اور کچھ امریکہ اور یورپ وغیرہ کے پروگرام دکھاتے تھے۔ پاکستانی چینل پر حالات حاضرہ کے پروگرام پہلے کی نسبت کافی جاندار تھے۔ انڈین چینلز پر میرے ٹرپ کے دوران ہی پابندی لگی اور پھر شاید وہ دوبارہ آنے لگے۔

ایک فاسٹ فوڈ ریستوران میں گیا تو دو لوگوں کو دیکھ کر کچھ حیرت ہوئی۔ ایک تو کوئی میری عمر کا جوڑا تھا۔ لباس وغیرہ سے کچھ غریب لھتا تھا۔ خاتون نے چادر لی ہوئی تھی اور اسی کو نقاب کے طور پر استعمال کر رہی تھی۔ وہ مزے سے ریستوران میں بیٹھے کھانا کھا رہے تھے اور گپیں ہانک رہے تھے۔ آج سے کچھ سال پہلے تک اس ریستوران میں شاید ایسے لوگ نظر نہ آتے۔ دوسرے دو سکول کے لڑکے تھے۔ انہوں نے جیسے بستے لٹکائے تھے اور جیسا لباس پہن رکھا تھا بالکل ایسا لگتا تھا کہ امریکہ میں اندرون شہر سے ہیں۔ یہ شاید rap کا اثر تھا۔

آخری بات یہ کہ اسلام‌آباد میں Gelato Affair کی آئس‌کریم اچھی ہے مگر اس کا اطالوی gelato سے دور کا بھی کوئی تعلق نہیں۔

US Visa Issues

Colin Powell on US visas (hat tip: Perverse Access Memory):

It is in our interest to have foreigners come to our institutions, come to our medical facilities, come to our entertainment facilities, visit the United States as tourists to get a better understanding of who we are, what we are as a nation and people, how we can reach out to other nations. And so, we are doing everything we can to make it easier to get a visa for those who should be coming to our country and mean us no harm. We want to be seen as an open country, with open doors welcoming people as we have in the past.

That’s just PR BS. I am very pissed off since my parents, who were planning to visit us for a month in December, have been refused a visit visa. I can’t really think of any reason for them to not get a visa. My Dad has been to the US once before on our Masters degree commencement. My parents are well-educated and are spending their retired life well-settled in Islamabad. If we, the elite1 of the US, can’t get our parents to come visit us, who can?

The reason my parents were given was a stock one: that the consular officer can’t be sure that they would return after their trip. Why wouldn’t they? They have a house in Islamabad. My two siblings live in Pakistan as well. My Dad has a pension and retiree medical benefits there. They have friends and relatives as well as property.

Yes, I know that it is the right of the US to admit or refuse any visitor. But it is also my right to be pissed off and rant when my parents can’t visit me.

It had taken us some effort to convince them to visit and they probably agreed because they wanted to see their only grandchild. But now that would have to wait.

In related news, I did not know that all visa applicants have to submit fingerprints to the US embassy. According to the US Consul General in Jeddah,

“Like the photograph we print on your visa, these scanned fingerprints will help identify you as you enter the United States and will prevent your visa from being misused if it is lost or stolen. Your scanned fingerprints will be kept in a secure database. They will not appear on your visa, or be shared with any other government agencies.”

If that’s the case, why don’t they fingerprint only those whose visa application is approved? What happens to the fingerprints of those who are refused a visa?

Related: An LA Times article about the negative effects of the visa policy on US business.

Continue reading “US Visa Issues”

Legal Torture

Obsidian Wings has a very important post about a bill in Congress which will allow the US to legally send suspected terrorists to any country for torture.

The Republican leadership of Congress is attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. “Extraordinary rendition” is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation.

[…] As it stands now, “extraordinary rendition” is a clear violation of international law—specifically, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment. U.S. law is less clear. We signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture, but we ratified it with some reservations. They might create a loophole that allows us to send a prisoner to Egypt or Syria or Jordan if we get “assurances” that they will not torture a prisoner—even if these assurances are false and we know they are false.

Here is some information about the bill from Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Congressman’s office.

These are excerpts from a press release one of Markey’s staffers just emailed me:

The provision Rep. Markey referred to is contained in Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004,” introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist – thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish “by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured,” would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary’s regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will – even countries other than the person’s home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

Please contact your Congressman and tell him/her to vote against this provision.

And in November, please vote the Republicans out who are thinking up such crazy laws and has been doing what the law would make legal for quite some time now.

Here is the text of the bill (large PDF file; another option is to go here and search for HR10). Sections 3032 and 3033 are the relevant ones.

Immigration Tales

I have ranted about USCIS on this weblog a number of times. Today, we bring you stories of the stupidity of immigration authorities around the world.

Let’s start with the United States. Via Head Heeb comes the story of poor Jimmy Mote, a native of the Marshall Islands. Under the Compact of Free Association between Marshall Islands and the US, a Marshallese person can live and work in the US as a non-immigrant. But apparently American law enforcement hadn’t heard of it.

A Marshallese man was recently released on home-monitoring following seven months of detention at a Minnesota lock-up. He is waiting for the Court to make a decision on whether or not he will be released from custody. He was arrested and detained in error.

Jimmy Mote, a thirty-three old from Majuro, Marshall Islands, came to the United States legally twelve years ago with non-immigrant status, but when he went to apply for an ID card renewal, he was detained by police. Someone working in the government office there found some information on the computer, which has since been proved an error, and had him arrested. According to Mr. Mote, a policeman told him that he looked like a terrorist. ” No one seemed to know where the Marshall Islands is,” he said.

One day, December 2003, Jimmy went to Bismarck, North Dakota to renew his I.D. That’s when the trouble began.

[…]After being taken into custody by six or seven state patrolmen in Bismarck, Mote was whisked up to Bottineau, where he was held for a week. All the time, he was trying to tell them that he had a right to be there. He also had an unexpired passport, issued on April 17, 1998, which under the Compact law, is the only documentation a Marshall Islands citizen needs to enter the United States.

Mr. Mote was taken down to Chaska, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, where he was held in jail until his recent release.

There is some more detail and an update here. Jimmy Mote’s case with the immigration court is ongoing.

Mote is required to report back to the INS office in Minnesota at 3:00 pm on Friday, August. 20. If he can pay bail of $1500, he can await the December hearing in North Dakota.

[…] Reportedly, it was a criminal charge from ten years ago that “red-flagged” the case to immigration authorities and has impacted the current proceedings.

This old criminal charge might trigger the 1996 immigration law regarding deportation. I read somewhere on the Yokwe forums that Mote’s criminal charge was a result of a $10 bad check and did not qualify for the moral turpitude clause of the 1996 law.

From the US, we move to the United Kingdom (hat tip: Perverse Access Memory) for the case of Steve Purcell, a British citizen, and his American wife, Lia. Here is their story in their own words.

We married in England at the beginning of this year, and through the tiring course of Lia’s pregnancy we have tried to get permission for Lia to remain in the UK indefinitely. We thought that we might need to leave the country to apply for a settlement visa for Lia, but in a phone call the Home Office advised us that we could apply from within the UK since Lia had been advised not to fly during her pregnancy. When we made our application, however, it was rejected because it was made in-country.

By the time our application was rejected, it was too late in Lia’s pregnancy for her to travel abroad, but her existing visa was due to expire when Grace would be only 8 weeks old. In the light of this uncertainty we could neither plan to remain in the UK nor prepare to leave.

[…] Despite its original advice, the current position of the Home Office as relayed to us by the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration is that we have not followed the rules, and that “Mrs. Purcell should make arrangements to leave the country in August and apply for an entry clearance as a spouse. If this is granted, Mrs. Purcell may then apply for two years further leave to remain and seek indefinite leave to remain at the end of the probationary period.”

On to Pakistan for a tale of love and bureaucracy. Aman Khan Hoti and Divya Dayanan met while studying in the Ukraine. They fell in love and got married last year in Pakistan after Divya converted to Islam and adopted the name “Hafsa”. The now Dr. Hafsa Aman applied for naturalization in Pakistan, but her application was refused. The couple have now filed a lawsuit in the Peshawar High Court.

The Pakistan government has declined citizenship to Indian national Dr Hafsa Aman after security agencies did not give necessary clearance, an Interior Division official has said.

A section officer of the Division, Jawed Habib, who was ordered to file comments by the Peshawar High Court on a writ petition filed by Aman Khan, Dr Hafsa’s husband, said that granting citizenship to an applicant was subject to clearance by security agencies.

The officer, in his brief comments, stated that Dr Hafsa’s case was being reprocessed and she had been given a two-month extension on her stay permit.

The high court stayed the deportation of Dr Hafsa and sought comments from respondents

[…] Habib conceded that under Section 10(2) a foreigner wife of a Pakistani man was entitled to Pakistani citizenship, but that was subject to clearance by security agencies.

Advocate Usman Khan Tarlandi, the petitioner’s counsel, stated that the section officer had been misinterpreting the law. He added that there was no provision in the Citizenship Act that granting of the citizenship would be subject to clearance from security agencies.

Aman and Hafsa had a baby recently.

Indian citizen Dr Hafsa Aman has said she is hopeful that the birth of her son in Pakistan will strengthen her case for acquiring Pakistani citizenship.

The young lady gave birth to a baby boy in a private hospital in Mardan on Tuesday. Her husband, Aman Khan, belongs to Mardan. They were married in Karachi on July 16, 2003 after her conversion to Islam. The two had met in Ukraine where they had gone to study medicine.

It seems like the only reason she was not granted citizenship is that she is Indian. Hopefully, the high court will rectify the situation for them.

I don’t understand why there should be any problems with the naturalization of spouses and minor children. These are, by far, the most important relationships of any person. The immigration process for them should be simple and without any hurdles.

Via Foreign Dispatches, we come back to the US with a story of The Uncivil Litigator who sued the INS on behalf of his wife whose immigration petition had been bungled by the INS.

UPDATE: Pakistan has finally granted citizenship to Hafsa Aman.

Do They Look Like Me?

You might have heard about the terror induced by 14 Syrian musicians on a Northwestern flight.

There is no doubt that something out of the ordinary happened on Northwest Airlines Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on June 29. The plane was met at the airport by squads of federal agents and police responding to radio messages from the pilots about concerns that 14 Middle Eastern male passengers had spent the four-hour flight acting suspiciously.

But was the episode a dry run for a terrorist attack, as is now being widely suggested on the Internet and on talk radio, or an aborted terrorist attack? Or was it an innocent sequence of events that some passengers, overcome by anxiety and perhaps ethnic stereotyping, misinterpreted as a plot to blow up their plane?

It started with a 3,300-word story by Annie Jacobsen who was on the flight. Her narrative reads like one right out of a creative writing class. I agree with Donald Sensing that “Annie’s story is simply a scarily well-written shaggy-dog story.” Lots of bloggers have commented on the article, some skeptical while others feel scared or worse.

Aziz Poonawalla writes about the suspicious things he has done on an airplane. I fly quite frequently, but haven’t noticed anyone staring at me. However, I usually read a book at the gate and in the plane. I have been asked a couple of times where I am from after someone sitting next to me heard me speaking in Urdu to Amber on the cellphone. Depending on my mood and sunspots, I give different answers to that question.

This incident reminded me of the three medical students who were supposedly heard making terrorist plans in a restaurant in Georgia about two years ago.

The scare began when Eunice Stone said she overheard the three Muslim men at a Shoney’s restaurant Thursday morning making suspicious comments. At one point, Stone said the bearded man said if Americans “were sad on 9/11, wait until 9/13.”

Stone said she heard one of the men ask “Do you think we have enough to bring it down?” Another one of the men replied, “If we don’t have enough to bring it down, I have contacts and we can get enough to bring it down.”

“To me, that meant they were planning to blow up something,” she said.

She called authorities, who in turn issued the bulletin for authorities to be on the lookout for the vehicles. The men were pulled over at 1 a.m. Friday on Alligator Alley, after one of the cars allegedly went through a toll booth without paying.

In the end, it turned out the guys were innocent. It never was clear who was speaking the truth, the three Muslims or Ms. Stone, but PhotoDude had his preferences:

In the end, I, a 44 year old who’s lived in Georgia for 24 years, am left to believe people I don’t know: either a 44 year old woman from Georgia and her son, or these three men. Now, I don’t know Eunice Stone, but after 24 years in this state, I know Eunice Stone’s type.

[…]I’m very thankful the day ended with no one injured, and no one even in jail. But if I have to believe one version or another of the story, I think you know which one I choose.

I guess I can play that game as well. I also don’t know any of the people involved. But having lived in Georgia for almost 7 years and visited north Georgia quite a lot, I have heard stories about the small-town people there being nice and polite and sometimes suspicious of strangers, especially those who look different. This was definitely the case before September 2001 and I doubt it has changed now. On the other hand, I don’t know the Muslim medical students but two of them seem to be Pakistani-Americans and I know the type.

In the end, no one was injured, as PhotoDude noted, and no one was jailed, but the students lost their medical internship in Florida because the hospital received numerous threats (by anti-Muslim bigots, I assume).

Where am I going with this? Obviously, I am not blogging to criticize a 2-year-old post by PhotoDude. I was reminded of this somewhat “tribal” behavior that we are all guilty of at times because of an excellent blog post by Katherine. She starts out with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

I won’t describe where I was that day, or what I felt; you obviously remember where you were and what you felt. You saw the same images I saw. I would guess that even now, when there has been more time since an attack than you thought we would ever have again, you can imagine the worst case scenario. Perhaps in New York, perhaps in your own city. The fires and the frantic cell phone calls. The bewildered crowds fleeing the clouds of ash on foot. The full or eerily empty emergency rooms. You probably cannot come much closer than I can to understanding what it would really feel like to be trapped there, or to find out that your family member had vanished. But voluntarily or involuntarily, consciously or subconsciously, you have made the attempt. It is a plausible scenario.

The opposite extreme is not plausible. You cannot imagine the stray air strike that hits the apartment building. Not the relative or friend disappeared, not into the air but into some unknown prison. Not the deportation to a country you can barely remember. Not the questions you know you can never answer to their satisfaction, because you are innocent. Not the complete powerlessness of solitary confinement for—you have no idea when it will end, or if it will end. Certainly not the abuse or torture..

Her whole post is worth reading. Her point is that most of us cannot empathize with the victims of torture at Abu Ghraib or the immigrants who were abused in detention immediately after September 11 or the 14 Syrians who were most likely innocent musicians or the three medical students or Pakistani-American Ansar Mahmood.

If Mahmood had not decided to pose for a souvenir snapshot taken by a co-worker on a sparkling fall day in October 2001, he might still be in Hudson, dutifully spending money to his family in Pakistan. But the scenic setting that Mahmood chose for this photo was a water-treatment plant with the Catskill Mountains in the background. Amid the post-9/11 hysteria, employees of the plant alerted police that a possible terrorist was photographing this vulnerable target.

[…]Because he held a green card and the initial suspicions that he wanted to poison the water supply were so exaggerated, Mahmood won release within a week. But a search of his apartment led to the discovery that Mahmood had co-signed a lease for a Pakistani couple who were in the country illegally. In an interview with The New York Times, Mahmood later explained that he had not inquired about the couple’s immigration status. “They never ask me if I have a green card, and I cannot ask them either.”

Reflecting the get-tough attitudes of the months after 9/11, federal officials charged Mahmood with the felony offense of “harboring aliens.” On the advice of his court-appointed lawyer, Mahmood pleaded guilty in federal court in January 2002, accepting a lenient sentence of probation and time served.

Our story might have ended there with a sadder-but-wiser Mahmood learning that he should not be so eager to do favors for his fellow Pakistanis. But the revised 1996 immigration law eliminated discretion in a situation like Mahmood’s. As soon as he uttered the word “guilty,” Mahmood was subject to deportation. He was moved to the Batavia detention facility, as his appeals process worked its way through the courts.

After more than two years in prison, Mahmood lost his last legal gambit Tuesday [June 29, 2004].

A lot of photogrophers and other civil libertarians have talked about the restrictions put on photography in recent times, but most Americans won’t have the misfortune of being an immigrant from Pakistan and hence have all their life scrutinized because they took a photograph. In that scrutiny, law enforcement might find a crime, a technical violation of immigration law or even some blunders by immigration authorities which affected the immigrant’s status.

Or consider the case of Ian Spiers whose tale of harassment because of photography is detailed here.

There are lots of other examples, like Maher Arar, a Syrian Canadian who was sent to Syria by US authorities to be tortured and interrogated.

I am a political liberal and a secular Muslim. I detest the terrorists and thugs who kill in the name of my religion. I am dismayed at the lack of democracy and civil liberties in Pakistan. However, when I read about incidents like the ones described in this post, I remember that like Ansar, I am a Pakistani immigrant to the US; like the Syrians on the Northwestern flight, my native language is written in the Arabic scrript; and so on. For me, unfortunately, these things are not beyond imagination. I can easily think of myself in their shoes and the feeling I get is scary. At a rational level, I understand that the US is a better place in terms of liberty than most other countries and that the chances of anything bad happening to me or my family are quite minute. I just hope that we get over these “tribal” attitudes and get to the task at hand: getting rid of terorrism and spreading democracy and human rights around the world.

UPDATE: Unmedia has an update of the Jacobsen and Syrians in flight story.

UPDATE II: Time has an interview with a Federal Air Marshall on the plane.

USCIS Efficiency

It took a month to happen for Amber. That was two years ago. I had to wait 2 years and 2 months for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to do what was just a printing job. During those two years, I had to visit the INS/USCIS 5 times, instead of the one visit it should have required. I had to get up really early in the morning and wait in line all day long. Add all the stress and worry and the phone calls I had to make to the USCIS and it becomes quite a lot.

The most frustrating part is that this was not about adjudication of an immigration petition. It was a simple printing job. At first, I thought I was special, that I was the only one in this situation. But then everywhere I looked, in internet forums and at USCIS offices, I saw people in the same predicament as me.

USCIS officers knew for 1.5 years that there was a problem on their end. But no one fixed it until one officer decided to do something 2 months ago. Their customer service is so bad that it always seemed like they were blaming me for the blunder. They never seemed to believe me until I showed them all the paperwork. Not once did anyone say “I am sorry, our department messed up.”


I have read a number of books in the past month or so and owe you guys about five reviews. Hopefully, I’ll get to them in the next couple of weeks.

Asad has informed me that he has created a phonetic Urdu keyboard layout for Unipad. He also pointed me to the Yahoo! mailing list for Urdu computing. These are useful resources to add to the list I compiled in a previous post.

Hijabman recommends the book Muslims in the U.S: The State of Research by Karen Leonard according to which most Muslims in the US are ‘invisible’ Muslims, i.e. they don’t attend any mosque.

According to Muslim Wakeup, “less than 7 percent of American Muslims attend mosque regularly (compared with 38 percent of Americans who attend church weekly).” In the comments, the author Ahmed Nassef explains where this 7% figure comes from.

The 7% figure for regular mosque attendance comes from the 2000 national mosque study co-sponsored by ISNA and CAIR. The study, which depends only on information from mosque officials, points to 400,000 regular mosque attendees out of an estimated population of 6 million Muslims in the US.

Even if there are only 3 million Muslims in the US, the percentage of regular mosque attendees is still much less than that of church attendees.

Via Perverse Access Memory comes the news that processing times for most immigration documents have increased substantially.

Processing times —- for everything from renewing an annual work permit to securing permanent legal residency —- have as much as quadrupled over the last 18 months, despite the Bush administration’s pledge to cut waiting times in half. The wait to replace a lost green card, for instance, has grown to 19 months from four. And the kind of paperwork sought by Ms. Barschdorff —- a document allowing her to re-enter the country after a brief trip —- now takes seven months instead of two.

As a consequence, and despite an infusion of $160 million earmarked for cutting the backlog, the number of pending applications has risen by nearly 60 percent over the last three years, to 6.2 million, according to a recent congressional report. The root cause, officials say, is the post-9/11 reassignment of 1,000 agents who used to issue documents and now do extensive security checks of every applicant instead.

The fallout ranges from minor inconveniences to wrenching dilemmas.