One of the primary occasions Muhammad was harassed for being Muslim ― and there have been many occasions ― was in his dwelling nation of Tajikistan. He was 23 years outdated. It was August 2014, and he’d returned dwelling from Russia, the place he was residing and dealing, for his upcoming wedding ceremony. One day whereas out buying, he was stopped by the Tajik KGB, who introduced him in for questioning.
At their workplaces, Muhammad says, he was interrogated for almost six hours, verbally abused and accused of being an anti-government extremist, just because he was Muslim. The males set hearth to his beard.
They visited Muhammad a number of months later at his dwelling, he says, the place they once more accused him of being an extremist. He was overwhelmed, slapped within the face and threatened with arrest on non secular extremism fees. From there he fled to Russia, the place he encountered but extra anti-Muslim harassment.
In 2020, Muhammad ― alongside along with his spouse, Aida, and their kids ― ultimately made it to Mexico, the place he hoped they may achieve entry to the United States and search asylum there. But he discovered himself detained once more and separated from his household, this time by the Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Muhammad” and “Aida” are pseudonyms; the immigration advocacy group RAICES has shared Muhammad’s full title with HuffPost for the needs of our investigation. HuffPost has agreed to make use of aliases in mild of the truth that the household’s asylum case continues to be ongoing.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden issued an govt order to extend refugee admissions to 125,000, a bunch anticipated to incorporate many individuals fleeing violence, humanitarian crises and persecution ― folks like Muhammad and his household. The order is Biden’s first step in rebuilding the nation’s refugee program after a collection of blows applied by former President Donald Trump, who spent years demonizing refugees and who lower admissions to a file low cap of 15,000. Some specialists and advocates have applauded Biden for taking step one to restoring admissions, however he nonetheless faces a collection of challenges to undo the years of harm.
It is unclear what number of Muslims like Muhammad are at present in detention, as ICE doesn’t hold monitor of immigrants primarily based on faith. However, Muslim detainees throughout the nation have reported and sued over non secular maltreatment, together with being compelled to eat pork and being denied prayer companies or the suitable to go masking.
The Intersection Of Immigration And Islamophobia
In June 2020, Muhammad and his household offered themselves at a U.S. port of entry, searching for asylum. They have been apprehended by immigration authorities and processed at Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, Muhammad instructed HuffPost by way of a translator in January.
The household was interviewed by an asylum officer who decided that they had a constructive credible fear, step one wanted in an asylum utility to determine that a person faces persecution or torture again of their nation of origin. The household was on account of be launched after the findings, however immigration officers solely launched Aida, who was pregnant on the time, and their kids. Muhammad was denied launch and transferred to an grownup detention middle in Laredo, Texas. Officials instructed him they wanted to confirm extra data.
But in line with his legal professionals, immigration officers suspected Muhammad of posing a hazard to the group for a similar cause he was persecuted to start with: He was Muslim.
The pervasive affect of Islamophobia within the American immigration system has compounded right into a collection of challenges for Muslim immigrants like Muhammad, who say they aren’t given an opportunity to show their asylum instances due to preconceived notions about their religion.
For many years, Muslim immigrants have been focused by structural and institutional limitations applied by immigration legal guidelines, which have been solely amplified within the post-9/11 period. Issues of racial profiling and spiritual discrimination have been additional exacerbated from 2017 onward, as Trump put anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment on the middle of his presidency. And whereas Biden has taken the primary steps to reverse a lot of Trump’s anti-immigrant insurance policies, researchers and specialists say the harm has already been accomplished, and will take months if not years to undo.
“Islam is viewed as inherently inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, which means that Islam is not viewed as a religion or a faith, but as a race and a hostile political ideology, rather than the diverse ethnic and racial identities that Muslims hold,” stated Nahid Soltanzadeh, a digital organizer at MPower Change, a grassroots Muslim-led advocacy group.
Muslim immigrants are robotically seen as potential dangers, somewhat than human beings fleeing persecution, Soltanzadeh stated, making it more difficult for immigrants like Muhammad to take care of a system that’s biased in opposition to them.
“[Immigration officials] decided that the persecution that he suffered made him a national security threat and a potential terrorist threat ― which was very, very alarming, because that was the abuse that he was suffering and that was how they were persecuting him as a young Muslim man,” stated Nicole Morgan, affiliate legal professional within the household detention division of RAICES, who’s representing the household.
The extra of misinformation regarding immigration and Islamophobia, notably below the Trump administration, made it almost not possible for asylum-seekers to have a good probability in immigration court docket and with the general public, Morgan stated. Meanwhile, the elevated energy granted to ICE and immigration authorities allowed them to behave on preconceived notions with impunity.
“The average American doesn’t even know who these people are, because they’re being fed a lie and a misrepresentation of our clients,” Morgan stated. “If they met them or even heard a tenth of their story, they would open their homes to them, let alone our country.”
The Crackdown On Religious Freedoms Escalates
Human rights and spiritual freedoms have had a unstable historical past in Tajikistan because the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving problems with media censorship, a crackdown on authorities critics and the nation’s uneasy relationship with its personal Islamic roots. Over the years, the federal government has made numerous makes an attempt to limit non secular follow.
In 2009, the federal government handed a regulation formalizing a ban on feminine college students sporting the hijab. In 2011, authorities banned anybody below 18 years of age from attending any form of non secular service. The authorities started to shut down unregistered mosques all through the nation.
According to the State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom, the U.S. authorities has acknowledged the pervasive harassment Muslims face in Tajikistan and the curbing of non secular freedoms there. In 2016, the report designated Tajikistan a “Country of Particular Concern” below the International Religious Freedom Act, a standing it has held by the publication of the 2019 report, the latest.
The State Department’s report for Russia isn’t any higher, noting that the Russian authorities has the facility to ban the exercise of non secular associations for “violating public order or engaging in ‘extremist activity.’”
The human rights state of affairs in Tajikistan took a flip for the more serious after the federal government banned an opposition social gathering in 2015 and declared it a terrorist group with out credible proof, in line with Human Rights Watch.
The authorities perceived religious Muslims as being related to political teams that threatened the facility of the present authorities, stated Syinat Sultanalieva, the Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Authorities harassed ladies sporting hijabs and males with beards. Mosques and spiritual facilities have been subjected to police raids, surveillance and compelled closures ― an try by authorities officers to control Islam for extremist actions, regardless of outcry from critics that such rules have been politically motivated and a transparent violation of private non secular freedoms.
Once Muhammad heard rumors that the federal government was concentrating on his native mosque amid its crackdown, he stopped going, fearing retaliation. In 2013, these rumors have been confirmed true after police raided his sister’s dwelling, arrested his sister and her spouse, and shut down their middle. By then, Muhammad had simply moved to Russia, the place he was a twin citizen, searching for security and work.
Fleeing To Russia
In November 2014, Muhammad and Aida moved to Russia, however even there the harassment by the Tajik officers didn’t cease. Muhammad says the boys ceaselessly visited his mother and father’ dwelling, demanding they name their son and coerce him again to Tajikistan.
But Muhammad couldn’t return. He knew he’d be arrested instantly, he stated. He modified his quantity to evade the Tajik safety forces’ calls and threats. He discovered work as a supply driver in 2015 for a dairy firm. Aida gave delivery to a daughter in October 2015, and a son in October 2017. For some time, life turned regular once more.
One November night in 2017, Muhammad and Aida held an Islamic child bathe, a welcoming ceremony historically held after a delivery, with shut family and friends. Two hours into the celebration, Russian law enforcement officials confirmed up and instructed them their non secular ceremony was in opposition to the regulation. The officers searched the home and the visitors and arrested Muhammad and Aida.
The couple was interrogated. Aida, who didn’t communicate Russian, was compelled to signal a doc admitting she violated public order. She was launched, however Muhammad was held a number of extra days and interrogated about his Islamic beliefs. Russian police confiscated his Quran as supposed proof of his extremism, an allegation that Muhammad discovered astonishing.
Muhammad says he was slapped, shocked with a stun gun and disadvantaged of sleep over the course of three days by Russian authorities who accused him of wanting to affix and recruit for ISIS ― all of which he vehemently denied. He handed over his cellphone and social media login data, in hopes that the police would clear him of wrongdoing.
Eventually, Muhammad signed papers he was not allowed to learn, and was launched. But the harassment didn’t cease. He says Russian police tracked him in all places he went, calling each month demanding to know his whereabouts. They confirmed up at his home and searched it and not using a warrant. Law enforcement and members of the Russian authorities stopped him within the streets and requested him who he was visiting. They have been all the time watching, they instructed him.
In March 2018, Muhammad says, he was taken once more to the police station, the place he was handcuffed with different males who he assumes have been additionally Muslim. He watched the police beat these males and drag them out of the room. He by no means noticed the boys once more.
Muhammad was additionally overwhelmed and shocked a number of occasions, he says. The officers accused him once more of being an ISIS member. Muhammad denied the accusations and instructed them he denounced extremism in all kinds. After days of interrogation and torture, Muhammad was coerced into signing extra paperwork and was ultimately launched.
Deniz Yuksel, Turkey advocacy specialist at Amnesty International USA, instructed HuffPost that the Russian authorities has persecuted non secular minorities like Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that Muhammad’s case dovetails with what is thought concerning the deterioration of non secular freedom there.
The crackdown on non secular minority teams is “part of a broader attack by the government on communities and ideologies that they believe are either in opposition to them directly politically, or opposition to the traditional Orthodox Christian values,” Yuksel stated.
The police by no means stopped harassing and torturing Muhammad, who tried to clear his title every time he was apprehended. He says he filed a grievance in opposition to the officers who tortured him, with none success. Instead, the harassment escalated. The police continued to look his dwelling unexpectedly. He started to obtain calls from unknown numbers, from individuals who spewed Islamophobic insults at him and mocked his Tajik background.
“They never left us to live peacefully. Always calling, always watching,” stated Aida, who instructed HuffPost she knew they have been focused on account of their Muslim religion.
“Especially because we were practicing Muslims. My husband had a beard and I wore a scarf, so you can clearly see that we are practicing Muslims,” she stated. She was anxious that any day her husband can be taken away and unfairly jailed.
In August 2018, Aida’s Russian residency was canceled, and was solely reinstated after the couple employed a lawyer. They moved to a brand new metropolis, hoping to evade police, however have been ultimately discovered. During the final spherical of threatening calls and visits, members of regulation enforcement instructed Muhammad that in the end, he was going to be put in jail for extremism ― in retaliation for the grievance he’d filed in opposition to them.
It was at that second that Muhammad realized he couldn’t keep in Russia any longer. In August 2019, Muhammad, Aida and their two kids deserted every part that they had and commenced their journey to Mexico ― and to their remaining vacation spot, America.
Fighting For His Health During COVID-19
Although most migrants apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border are from Central America or Mexico, there was a rise of migrants from different continents. According to numbers gathered by the Mexican government, greater than 670,000 migrants from Asia entered Mexico by authorized ports of entry in 2019. Most extra-continental migrants arrive in Central and South American nations on account of their lax visa necessities, in line with the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan immigration suppose tank.
Muhammad and his household arrived in Mexico in August 2019, the place they have been detained by Mexican immigration for 3 months. Via a translator, Aida instructed HuffPost the circumstances within the detention facility have been insufferable for her and her kids. She was separated from her husband, and one in all her kids received sick from the dearth of warmth and scorching water, she says.
After they have been launched from detention, they rented an residence for six months and labored to save cash. In June 2020, they crossed into America on the Calexico Port of Entry, searching for asylum. The household was processed at Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, and a month later, Aida and the kids have been launched. Muhammad, nonetheless, was detained and transferred to the Laredo Detention Center.
Suffering from kidney malfunction and abdomen pains, Muhammad’s well being grew worse in detention. He was identified with hypothyroidism, diabetes and a attainable autoimmune dysfunction, in line with his legal professionals. His kidney ache turned extra extreme, and he handled urinary incontinence, weight reduction and bladder ache. Each time, he was solely given painkillers and never handled for the underlying circumstances. In July, Muhammad examined constructive for the coronavirus.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care,” an ICE spokesperson instructed HuffPost in an emailed assertion. “Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in custody.”
Detainees with medical circumstances “can expect timely and appropriate responses to emergent medical requests, and timely medical care appropriate to the anticipated length of detention,” the spokesperson wrote.
Muhammad instructed HuffPost that he was served pork ― which many Muslims don’t eat, in accordance with their religion ― and denied halal meals, typically forcing him to go and not using a meal, which exacerbated his well being circumstances.
“Him being a young Muslim man and the Islamophobia that has just permeated our politics and our immigration system, he is absolutely suffering from that,” stated Morgan, the RAICES legal professional. “[The U.S. government] has no evidence or even a credible reason to believe he’s a threat to the United States, but yet they’re treating him with such hostility.”
The ICE spokesperson instructed HuffPost that folks “held at the centers receive three meals daily using menus developed by a registered dietician, who ensure individual unique health (included allergies), dietary, and religious needs are met.”
Muhammad was denied parole 4 occasions in 2020 ― as soon as in July, twice in October and once more in December. Aida was anxious consistently. “We thought this would be the safest place where we could come and find our protection,” she instructed HuffPost.
The couple spoke on the telephone almost each day, Muhammad from detention and Aida from a San Antonio church that was sponsoring her and her kids and giving them a spot to remain. In January, Aida gave delivery to their third baby, a child woman, with out her husband by her aspect. Their 5-year-old daughter and their 3-year-old son requested their mom each day the place their father was. She didn’t know how one can reply them, so the kids began to ask members of the church.
“My kids are suffering. It’s stress and constant torture to not know where their father is,” Muhammad stated. “It’s painful for me to know that my kids think I’ve disappeared.”
Searching For Home
On Friday, Feb. 5, Muhammad acquired a notice telling him to name his lawyer. His coronary heart sank. He thought one thing was unsuitable ― both along with his case or his household.
But his legal professionals had excellent news: He was being launched.
At first, he couldn’t consider what he’d heard. The information shocked him to the purpose the place he was bodily unable to talk and his lawyer thought the road had disconnected. Instead of speaking, Muhammad broke down in sobs.
A number of days later, Muhammad was launched and made his strategy to the San Antonio shelter to reunite along with his household. As he approached, he noticed his son taking part in with toys, however his son didn’t acknowledge him. Soon, Aida got here sprinting over. The couple embraced for the primary time in months. Neither of them spoke between the hugs and kisses. They couldn’t discover the phrases.
Between congratulations from members of the church and shelter, and after downing a glass of fruit juice, Muhammad met his new child daughter for the primary time. He held her in his arms and apologized tearfully to her, time and again, for lacking her delivery. He swore to her, and the remainder of his kids, to make up for the misplaced time. He promised his elder daughter he would educate her how to attract and paint ― a brand new interest she has picked up. He promised Aida he would by no means go away her aspect once more.
ICE confirmed to HuffPost that Muhammad was launched on Feb. 8, however didn’t elaborate on his case or clarify what prompted the sudden change.
Muhammad, now 30, stated he hopes immigration officers will lastly view his religion as a faith like every other and never consider the xenophobic stereotypes. After all, he stated, it was his religion that saved him hopeful throughout his time in detention.
“We’re glad that pressure from the public and a coalition of advocates in support of [Muhammad] has forced ICE to make the right decision and release him to be with his family,” stated Laila Ayub, the particular tasks legal professional at RAICES’ household detention companies program.
“Nonetheless, [Muhammad]’s case is an example of the xenophobia, Islamophobia, criminalization, and family separation inherent to immigration enforcement,” Ayub stated. “The immigration system, even under the Biden administration, permits ICE to justify the detention of someone like [Muhammad] under the guise of national security. ICE’s analysis of public safety and national security is a superficial one rooted in white supremacy, and people like [Muhammad] are still at risk of detention and deportation even under the Biden administration’s new enforcement policies.”
For now, Muhammad says he feels “bottomless gratitude” for his legal professionals, the church members who cared for his household, and others. He needs to thank them “for giving me my life back and giving my children their father back.”
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