The FBI Is Deporting Muslims Who Refuse To Become Informants
If you ever had any question about the U.S. government using immigration status as a vehicle of oppression and coercion, you should read the story of Imam Foad Farahi. The Miami New Times has an in-depth report of how the U.S. federal government tried to force Farahi to use his privileged position as a religious leader to inform on his fellow Muslims. Farahi did the right thing, said no:
"We want you to work with us," Farahi remembers the agents telling him.
And this is when the imam's five-year battle with the federal government began.
"I have no problem working with you guys or helping you out," Farahi said. He could keep them informed about the local Muslim community or translate Arabic. But the relationship, he insisted, would need to be public; others would have to know he was helping the government.
But that wasn't what the FBI had in mind, Farahi says. The agents wanted him to become a secret informant who would investigate specific people. And they knew Farahi was in a vulnerable position. His student visa had expired, and he had asked the government for a renewal. He had also applied for political asylum, hoping one of those legal tracks would offer a way for him to stay in the United States indefinitely.Part of what is so heartless about the U.S. migration system is it's dysfunction and seeming randomness. Some get through easily and others get caught in a bureaucratic hell that has been known to result in death. Farahi's story exposes another side of the ugly underbelly of U.S. migration policy, actively using migration status to oppress people.
"We'll give you residency," the agents promised. "We'll give you money to go to school."
Farahi considered the offer for a moment and then shook his head.
"I can't," he told them.Trevor Aaronson - Miami New Times (6 October 2009)
One of the most extraodinary parts of the Miami New Times article is when it begins to list several cases of the U.S. government doing this:
Farahi's assertion that the government is trying to coerce him to become an informant cannot be verified independently because the FBI won't comment on his case. "It is a matter of policy that we do not confirm or deny who we have asked to be a source," says Miami FBI Special Agent Judy Orihuela. But similar claims from other would-be informants seem to support Farahi's assertion.
In November 2005, for example, immigration officials questioned Yassine Ouassif, a 24-year-old Moroccan with a green card, as he crossed into New York from Canada. The officials confiscated his green card and instructed him to meet an FBI agent in Oakland, California. The bureau's offer: Become an informant or be deported. Ouassif refused to spy and won his deportation case with the help of National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement, a nonprofit that advocates for civil rights on behalf of Muslims and immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia.
The government employed a similarly tough tactic against Tarek Mehanna, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen living in Sudbury, Massachusetts. After FBI agents failed to persuade Mehanna to spy, the government charged him with making a false statement. Prosecutors allege Mehanna told FBI agents a suspect was in Egypt when he knew that person was in Somalia. Mehanna is awaiting trial, and his attorney has alleged the prosecution is a form of revenge for Mehanna's unwillingness to be an informant.
Among more recent cases is that of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan. Charged with making a false statement to obtain citizenship, he alleged in a February detention hearing in Orange County, California, that he was arrested and indicted for refusing to be an informant.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) suspects there are hundreds of similar cases in which the government has used deportation or criminal charges to force cooperation from informants. Most of these cases will never be made public. What's more, the FBI is now working under guidelines, approved in December 2008 by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, that allow agents to consider religion and ethnic background when launching undercover investigations. Today, many Muslims in the United States simply assume informants are working inside their mosques.
"This is becoming increasingly common," says Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's national communications director. "Law enforcement authorities seek to use some vulnerability of the individual, whether it be business, immigration, or personal, to try to gain some sort of informant status.Trevor Aaronson - Miami New Times (6 October 2009)
Some are probably reading this and thinking, who cares? These are Muslims. It won't affect me. I can tell you as a migrant advocate that the government uses the threat of deportation to shut our advocacy down. The Miami New Times article mentions Gaby Pacheco, who alleges her parents were targeted for deportation because of her advocacy. Tam Tran's family was targeted after she came out in support of the DREAM Act.
This doesn't affect just the people who are being targeted it affects all of us. It affects Muslim U.S. citizens who expect to be able to worship without being spied on. It affects people like me who feel strongly about something but constantly has to worry about the threat of the government shutting my activism down by deporting my friends and allies.
I hope everyone realizes just how despicable this is.