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<nettime> Pakistani fleeing the US to Canada (continued) (NYTimes)
Patrice Riemens on Wed, 26 Feb 2003 13:10:44 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Pakistani fleeing the US to Canada (continued) (NYTimes)

As follow-up to a previous post. From the Sarai Reader List, with
apologies for X-posting.

greetings from 'the end of the world' (Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego) p+D!

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To: reader-list {AT} sarai.net
Subject: [Reader-list] Rush to Canada/front page of nytimes
List-Archive: <http://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/reader-list/>
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2003 12:14:27 -0500

this morning's paper -- NYTimes seems to have caught up with the local Urdu Press in NY?
this was on the front page.

U.S. Crackdown Sets Off Unusual Rush to Canada

  February 25, 2003

  BURLINGTON, Vt., Feb. 21 - Once Jalil Mirza decided to
  leave the United States to avoid possible deportation,
  nothing happened quite as he expected, not even goodbye. 

  As did hundreds of other Pakistanis fleeing a post-9/11
  crackdown on illegal immigrants, Mr. Mirza quit his job,
  packed up his possessions and headed north rather than face
  a forced return to Pakistan. 

  After a 16-hour bus ride from Virginia with his wife and
  seven children, he arrived at the Canadian border, hoping
  to take advantage of Canada's political asylum law. 

  But besieged Canadian officials told him to come back in
  two weeks. And when he dragged their suitcases back to the
  American side, United States immigration agents promptly
  arrested him and his two teenage sons, leaving the rest of
  the family wailing in despair in the icy cold. 

  The Mirzas are part of an unusual and chaotic exodus that
  has jammed land crossings from the United States into
  Canada over the past two weeks, overwhelming immigration
  officials and refugee aid groups on both sides of the

  It is an oddly reluctant migration toward a presumed safe
  haven by people who say they do not really want to go but
  feel compelled to for fear that they could be deported. 

  Prompted by rumors of dragnets and by new federal deadlines
  that require male foreign visitors, principally those from
  Muslim and Arab countries, to register with the government,
  families that lived illegally but undisturbed in the United
  States for years are now rushing to Canada. They get across
  the border only to be bounced back into the hands and jails
  of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. 

  Asylum applications to Canada have increased sharply since
  the beginning of the year, according to aid workers and
  officials on both sides of the border. Most of the
  applicants are Pakistanis, who are required to register
  with the American immigration service by March 21. Other
  nationality groups also face various registration
  deadlines, but have not noticeably flooded the border. 

  Many of the Pakistani asylum seekers said they decided to
  flee to Canada because they knew that Canada was already
  home to a large and growing population of Pakistani
  immigrants, especially in Montreal and Toronto. 

  Even before the latest upswing this month and last month,
  Pakistanis accounted for the largest number of asylum
  applications to Canada, according to Citizenship and
  Immigration Canada. 

  Refugee aid workers also speculated that the registration
  requirement hit Pakistani immigrants harder than other
  groups because more of them lived illegally in the United
  States and had less time to legalize their status through
  family ties or employment. A result is that hundreds of
  would-be refugees, some from as far away as Texas, are now
  camped out in Salvation Army shelters, mosques and other
  lodgings along the border, waiting for appointments to
  apply for asylum and struggling to find money to pay the
  bond to get their male relatives out of immigration

  Their common refrain, as was Mr. Mirza's, is that they love
  America and do not want to leave. 

  A former restaurant manager in Virginia with four young
  children born in the United States, Mr. Mirza, 45, managed
  to scrape together the $4,500 he needed to get himself and
  his older sons out of jail on bond. His family stayed two
  weeks in a shelter in Burlington, until today when they had
  an 8 a.m. appointment with Canadian immigration officials. 

  But Mr. Mirza wanted to show, one last time, that his
  heart was in the United States. "I'm going to turn and
  salute the American flag," he said as he approached the
  border. "I love America." 

  Even that plan, though, went awry. In the most prosaic of
  farewells, after filling out forms for eight hours he and
  his family were driven straight to the Canadian post at St.
  Bernard Lacolle, Quebec, early in the morning under a milky
  overcast sky. No one bothered to stop him on the American
  side, where the nearest flag hung limply on a pole in the

  "This is one of the most tragic events I've ever witnessed,
  seeing this exodus of good, hard-working families," said
  Patrick Giantonio, executive director of Vermont Refugee
  Assistance, which had found the shelter for the Mirzas and
  dozens of other Pakistani families trying to reach Canada. 

  "It's a tragedy not just for their communities," Mr.
  Giantonio added, "but for the American community." 

  Similar stories are playing out all along the northern

  At crossing points in British Columbia, some 70 people,
  most of them Pakistanis, asked for asylum in January. In
  all of 2002, officials said, only 36 Pakistanis made
  refugee claims. 

  At land crossings into Ontario, 871 people applied for
  asylum in January, double the number just two months
  earlier. Last November, 5 percent of the asylum seekers
  were Pakistani. Last month, 49 percent were Pakistani,
  according to Canadian immigration officials in Toronto. 

  Freedom House, an immigrant aid group in Detroit, said that
  since the beginning of the year it had registered 269
  Muslim asylum seekers trying to reach Canada in advance of
  their registration deadlines. Seven out of 10 are
  Pakistanis, with the rest Arabs. Normally, the group
  handles about 30 cases a month. 

  The surge of asylum seekers coincided with the start in
  December of a new registration program for men over the age
  of 15 who were in the United States on visitor, student or
  business visas. Within days, it became clear to foreigners
  that anyone registering who had overstayed a visa would be
  immediately put into deportation proceedings. 

  Although the registration law, dating to 1996, applies to
  all foreign visitors, the Department of Justice has put it
  into effect only for men from 25 countries, all but one of
  them Arab or Muslim nations. Of the 32,000 men who have
  registered so far at immigration offices around the
  country, according to officials, more than 3,000 face

  The choices for illegal Muslim immigrants, then, were
  stark. If they had been in the United States for more than
  one year, they no longer had the right to apply for asylum
  here. So they could have ignored the registration and
  risked deportation, registered and faced deportation or
  gone back to Pakistan. Or they could try for asylum in
  Canada by claiming they would face political persecution if
  forced to return home. 

  They are not only overwhelming service agencies, but have
  also proved an embarrassment for the Pakistani government,
  which has been criticized at home for not demanding better
  treatment for its expatriates in exchange for its
  cooperation with the United States on fighting terrorism. 

  After the Pakistani foreign minister protested in
  Washington this month against the registration requirement,
  the deadline for Pakistanis was extended to March 21 from
  Feb. 21. The change also affected men from Saudi Arabia,
  who faced the same deadline. 

  But the extension is unlikely to stem the tide of people to
  the Canadian border, which has always registered shifts in
  immigration policy on either side with surges of people
  seeking asylum in Canada. 

  The widely held perception is that Canada treats applicants
  with more leniency, although its refugee approval rate of
  57 percent is not much higher than that of the United
  States, which approves 54 percent of asylum cases. Asylum
  seekers in the United States are generally placed in
  detention while their claims are assessed, however, while
  those waiting for a decision in Canada are free to work. 

  Still, the latest tide of Muslim men and their families
  took authorities on both sides by surprise. 

  Three weeks ago, Canadian border officials at the crossings
  from northern New York and Vermont, said they did not have
  enough workers to handle the numbers of people asking for
  refugee status. They began giving applicants appointments
  for several weeks later and sending them back to the
  American side of the border. 

  In the past when unable to process people on the spot,
  Canada asked for assurances from the immigration service
  that those applicants would not be arrested after returning
  to the United States to wait for their interviews. But last
  month, Canadian authorities did not bother. 

  "We realized it was useless because whether or not we got
  assurances, we could not process these people," said Rene
  Mercier, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration

  The United States, in turn, placed dozens of people in
  deportation proceedings even if they had documents showing
  an asylum appointment with Canada. Others, caught on their
  way to the border at counterterrorism checkpoints set up by
  the United States Customs Service, were arrested on
  immigration violations. 

  The arrests split families and left many women and children
  to fend for themselves at isolated border posts in some of
  the coldest weather in years. At least 50 people remain in
  detention along the border, unable to post bond. 

  The immigration service said its agents were simply
  following procedure. "Individuals who are illegally in the
  U.S. are processed the same way we would process them if we
  encountered them any other way," said Michael Gilhooly, a
  spokesman for the agency. 

  But it is a shock for those at the border. "I am crying, my
  wife is crying," said Samir Sheik, a Pakistani who had been
  working as a street vendor in New York City and was
  arrested at a checkpoint on his way to the Canadian border
  for having overstayed his visa. "It's not fair because I am
  leaving the country." 

  Mr. Sheik said that he could not return to Pakistan because
  he and his wife married against the wishes of both their
  families - "a love marriage," as he tearfully described it
  - and that he feared his wife would be killed by her

  His wife, Erim Salim, shuffled silently around the crowded
  Salvation Army center in Burlington, where they had been
  reunited after she borrowed from friends and neighbors to
  pay his $5,000 bond. 

  "She is sick now, mentally," said Mr. Sheik, nodding toward
  her sadly. "Millions of people live here and are overstays.
  Why is it only for Pakistanis and Muslim people that they
  do this?" 

  Hiraj Zafer, a Pakistani cook from Salt Lake City who was
  also trying to enter Canada, gave an answer. "After 9/11,
  people hate us," Mr. Zafer said. 

  Mr. Sheik said: "Yes, they hate us. But we love America. We
  feel free here."


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