in Gujarat, around 2005
I love the place and the community in which I live in upstate New York. One thing I'm especially proud of is they way people here resisted the post-9/11 hysteria in racial and ethnic profiling that swept the country during the period after the terrorist attacks.
One of those mistakenly swept up in the frenzy was a legal Pakistani immigrant, Ansar Mahmood, who worked as a pizza delivery man in Greenport near the City of Hudson. In October 2001 he was detained for taking photos of a lake, but soon cleared of any wrongdoing. Eventually, however, overwrought government authorities found irregularities in his residential arrangements and launched deportation proceedings. Many people in Columbia County gathered together to resist this injustice.
Eventually, however, Mr. Mahmood was forced to leave the U.S.A. "permanently." Now, a decade later, a fine reporter for the local paper, John Mason, brings up to date on what's happened to Ansar, where he's living, what he's doing back in his home country.
Here are excerpts from the Register Star Online story:
COLUMBIA COUNTY/PAKISTAN — It was, ironically, love that led Ansar Mahmood to spend two-and-a-half years of his young life in a Batavia detention center: Love for the beauty of his new found home, Columbia County; love for his three younger sisters back in Pakistan, who teased him that no place could be so lovely, and to whom he wanted to send photos to prove it.
Mahmood was one of a number of people around this country who were the victims of racial profiling after 9/11. Born and raised in a small, rural village in Pakistan, he won the “green card lottery,” which allowed him to come to the United States and earn money to send home to his family for education, medical needs and other expenses. He landed a job as a Domino’s Pizza deliveryman in Greenport, a job he loved.
Now back in his home village in Gujarat province, Mahmood still lists the areas he found most beautiful, Mt. Merino, Gahbauer Road, Columbiaville.
On Rossman Avenue, where Hudson’s altitude reaches its highest point, Mahmood met customer Peter Jung, who pointed up the hill and said there were great views up there. And so Mahmood took his disposable camera there and started shooting views of the Catskills, and asked personnel at the Hudson Water Treatment plant, also located there, to take his picture against a wide panoramic background.
Although he was swiftly cleared of any suspicion of terrorism, the FBI dug into his personal life and learned that he was sharing an apartment with two young people from his village in Pakistan. Their visas had expired, so Mahmood was accused of “harboring illegal aliens.”
In the Kafkaesque chain of events that followed, he was jailed in Albany, released, and then imprisoned in the Buffalo Detention Center in Batavia, NY, near Rochester, where he stayed for 32 months, fighting the deportation he had been faced with after being convicted of harboring illegal aliens, a felony. . . . .
Mahmood’s story forms one chapter in the recent book, “Detained without Cause: Muslims’ stories of detention and deportation in America after 9/11,” by UCLA Fulbright scholar Irum Shiekh, who writes, “Helping a childhood friend – a moral responsibility in Pakistani culture – was manufactured into a crime after the U.S. Congress adopted the 1996 immigration act, and law enforcement officers decided to enforce it strictly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Ansar’s narrative shows that the United States’ current immigration laws can transform an honest young man with aspirations into a terrorist or a criminal.”
But his aspirations are still of the most generous kind.
“If I close my eyes,” Mahmood said, “I’m still in the USA. If someone asks me, What is the biggest aim in your life? I’d say to go back to America and thank all these people that were helping me from the outside. Old ladies [from Rochester] that held a vigil outside Batavia, even in the wintertime. They fight for the right, what belongs to their nation; sometimes, I don’t have the words.”
He said he wishes he could return to the United States to “really thank in my deep heart” the people of Hudson and Columbia County.
And meanwhile, he is engaged to be married to a young woman in the village. And he continues to be a strong and loving support to his family.