The Undocumented Story of Minhaz Khan

I’ve been following closely the case of Minhaz Khan, a 24 year old undocumented Bangladeshi-American from the Inland Empire who, on Nov 4th, was required to put on an ankle bracelet and present a one way ticket to Bangladesh to the authorities. It had been 20 years since he’d been to Bangladesh and when his father was deported after being denied political asylum, he was murdered for his political affiliations in Bangladesh. had a petition out to support his case and his case garnered local media coverage. His case officer read  the coverage and removed the bracelet last week and Minhaz last Tuesday was granted a temporary stay.

Minhaz Kahn — the UC-Riverside alumnus who last week had to show immigration officers that he bought a one-way ticket back to his native Bangladesh — learned Tuesday that he doesn’t have to return home just yet. He will be able to stay in the country for another three months…[T]op federal counsel told a group of American Immigration Lawyers Association attorneys in a meeting last week that they will not automatically grant a stay for all other DREAM Act eligible immigrants who are awaiting deportation, says AILA attorney Leah Price. [SFWeekly]


I had the chance for a virtual sit-down with Minhaz right after the ankle bracelet was placed on him a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what he had to say.

When and why did your family come to the United States?

My family came in 1992 to flee danger. My dad left entrepreneurial success and political influence to work at gas stations and my mom left a teaching career and lost all significance her Master’s held, so to anyone who says immigrants come here to take anything from anyone is missing what many people have to leave behind for safety and the possibility of a better future.

Why wasn’t your father able to seek political asylum? What happened after he was deported?

I’m not completely sure why he wasn’t granted asylum. I never got to see the judge’s decision, but I think he missed an interview or something due to a lawyer not notifying him. After he was deported in 1997, he died (or in my whole-hearted belief, murdered) a couple of years later. Continue reading

Arun Gupta and The Occupied Wall Street Journal: Desis at Occupy Wall Street, Pt. 4

(h/t @vetoshield for Tweeting this video)

Speaking of desis at Occupy Wall Street, last week I chatted with Arun Gupta, one of the founders of the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Gupta, who talked with me on the phone from a road trip to visit different sites of protest, has been working with newspapers off and on for the past two decades, and writes for publications like AlterNet and Al Jazeera. He’s also been with the Indypendent for the past 11 years. He told me about making the first issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal happen in under 24 hours.

(Time-sensitive note for New Yorkers: If you want to hear more from Gupta, The New Yorkers editor, David Remnick, is moderating a discussion about OWS tonight at Florence Gould Hall in NYC. 7 p.m. In addition to Gupta, the event features NYer staff writers John Cassidy and Jill Lepore, as well as former NY governor Eliot Spitzer. Online tickets are gone, but a limited number of free tickets will be available at the door.) And a BONUS read via Sonny Singh: Manissa McCleave Maharawal in conversation with Eliot Spitzer about OWS in NYMag, here. I blogged about Manissa earlier in this series.)

Continue reading

‘It Was So Important That We Were All Together’: Desis at Occupy Wall St., Pt. 3

If you go to Zuccotti Park at 4 a.m., you will see them: a contingent from Occupy Wall Street’s People of Color (POC) working group, standing with others who are banding together to protect protestors from a city effort to clean up the space—widely viewed as a coded way to shut down OWS. Continue reading

Desis Take Action At Occupy Wall Street

 video courtesy of Thanu Yakupitiyage

I no longer live in New York, and I was following the Occupy Wall Street movement only vaguely when last week, something on FB caught my attention… and kept it. It was a lengthy note by Hena Ashraf, chronicling how she and a few other desis had gone down to Liberty Square on Thursday night and argued to change some of the language in Occupy Wall Street’s primary declaration.

I recognized some of the names in her story from my own time in New York: Sonny Singh (of, among other things, Red Baraat) and Thanu Yakupitiyage, an immigrant rights activist who is also a Lanka Solidarity member. And another, whom I didn’t know: Manissa McCleave Maharawal. These four, it seemed, had formed the posse primarily responsible for the intervention that had me riveted.

Here’s how it looks in the Occupy Wall Street notes:

Block 4—Grievance in supporting a document that claims that my oppression on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, religion, and things not mentioned on this document are something that happened formerly and not in the present day.

Continue reading

We are all Indians

Franz Kline's New York

I had been asleep when the first plane hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. What woke me was the sound of my wife sobbing. A phone call had come from India, from an editor, asking me to write. So, that is how we learned about what had happened.

The piece I wrote that day had some anger in it, anger not only at the hijackers but at the Americans. This was the kind of thing that would be called “the chicken coming home to roost” argument. A few days later, in the New Yorker issue dedicated to September 11, with its famous black cover designed by Art Spiegelman, I read a piece by Amitav Ghosh. His brief essay told the story of a man, an engineer involved in the design of the Twin Towers, staying back in the building to help people escape. The man and his wife, both of whom worked in the destroyed buildings, were Ghosh’s neighbors. And Ghosh’s piece was filled with a kind of sad tenderness that made me feel ashamed about my rage. I felt as if I had arrived drunk at a funeral. Continue reading



The years after 9/11, I could have sworn there was a clicking noise whenever I used the landline at my parent’s place. It could have been a bad phone, or it could have been due to the, as Saheli said, “crappy connectivity that year.” I would half-jokingly have side bar conversations with the so-called secret eavesdroppers, letting them know “I know you are listening!” or my thoughts on Dick Cheney.

I was reminded of this as I was reading Aasif Mandvi’s Op-Ed over at Bloomberg just now (h/t Ludovic):

When U.S. troops marched into Iraq in 2003, I, like many Americans, was outraged at what I considered a senseless and unjustified military action. As I spoke to my mother about it on the phone, I noticed that the angrier I got, the more uncomfortable she became.


At first I thought perhaps she disagreed with me, that her awkward silences on the other end of the line resulted from her biting her tongue. Had she, like many of her fellow Americans, bought into the claim that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were simply opposite sides of the same al-Qaeda nickel?


When I pressed her on this, she quietly replied, “Perhaps we should not discuss this over the phone.”


What do you mean? I said. Why on earth not?


Because, she answered, “You never know who is listening to us.” [bloomberg]


Read the rest here. Were we out of the realms of normal to think that our phone lines could be wiretapped? I don’t think so. It was THE Muslim Witch Hunt of 2001 – the antiquated version of our modern day Islamophobia. With Homeland Security agents knocking at our door and unmarked white vans parked in front of our house, it was very realistic to think that our line could be wiretapped. Ten years later, it still seems very realistic and in fact it feels that progress has not been made but rather undone. As Mandvi states, “That moment when the world came together and shared a grief that transcended faith, nationality and politics is undone….What I hope for in the next 10 years is a War against Fear.”

A Father Like This

As Ennis reported, there’s anarchy in the UK. I’ve been following twitter feeds coming out of England closely and though there is mixed feelings on the “insurrection” of the people, one thing is certain, everyone is fearful that the riots will come to their community. Last night, the rioters came to Birmingham.

Haroon, Abdul Musavir, 31, and Shazad Ali, 31, were mowed down as they stood on the pavement protecting their mosque and businesses in the community. Today, a 32-year-old man was being questioned on suspicion of murder.

The father said he was standing round the corner as the car mounted the pavement and knocked down the three young men. He said he acted instinctively and helped – without realising his boy was one of the trio who were fatally injured. Mr Jahan said: ‘The car came up on the pavement for God knows what reason and I was standing nearby. ‘I heard it happen and I turned round and I saw three people on the ground and my instinct to help and I started CPR and someone told me that one of them was my son.’ [dailymail]

Some moving words from Tariq Jahan, father to the 21 year old Haroon Jahan.

I’m not condoning the violence, but clearly the situation has reached a critical moment in the UK and the people believe things have got to change. Mass media is billing what is happening in the UK as a “race” riot or a “youth” insurgency – but the victims in this case were South Asian youth. The #UKRiots goes far deeper than that. Continue reading

Totally Pulled a “Nikki H.”

nikki_haley.jpgIt’s like Bhagat Singh Thind all over again. Are we White? Are we Brown? Are we Hindoos? Can I be white so that I can own property (as in Thind’s case)? Can I be White so that I can become electable as governor of South Carolina (as in Nikki Haley’s case)?

Haley — South Carolina’s first female and minority governor and the country’s second Indian-American governor — listed her race as “white” on her 2001 voter registration card… The state Democratic Party, which first obtained the public record, is calling Haley out on the matter and challenging whether her inconsistency on the card might have made her ineligible to voter under the state’s new Voter ID law. [postandcourier]

Oh Nimrata… As much as our politics and preference in alleged love affair diverged, I took a certain pride in knowing that we had our first South Asian American woman in governership. To marginalize yourself, when in leadership role, marginalizes the rest of us. Changing your name from Nimrata to Nikki is one thing, but changing your race? It’s skin. It’s blood. Unless you are Michael Jackson, it doesn’t rub off.

Now that I think about it, I think I have just the product for you, thanks to Sandeep Sood. This just may fit your need.

So Nikki, I’m going to give you the benefit of a doubt – like the 25% of South Asian Americans who marked themselves as White in the 1990 Census. This is your Public Service Announcement – No matter how great your dermatologist is or how much Fair & Lovely Inside you ingest, you are not White. You are a minority. A South Asian American. A woman of Indian heritage and Sikh parents.

And next time we hear someone Desi insist on their Whiteness, we can say, “She totally just pulled a Nikkie H.” Continue reading

Digital Diaspora: The South Asian American Digital Archive


I love me some primary sources/historical material, so imagine my delight when I discovered the South Asian American Digital Archive, which I first heard about from a friend of Vivek’s. You can get lost on this site for many hours, looking at everything from the Gadar Party to old SM favorite Dilip Singh Saund (and by the way, I would like a dollar for every time he has been mentioned on SM).

It turned out that Vivek’s pal, SAADA President Samip Mallick, was working on SAADA with, among other people, a friend of a friend of mine, Manan Desai. The two of them agreed to do an interview about it for Sepia. This interview was conducted via the standard Interwebs. Continue reading

California’s DREAM ACT too late for some?

Here in California, there has been a lot of news and commentary around the possible passage of the The California Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. It was featured on a recent NPR story:

Illegal immigrant students in that state’s colleges may soon be eligible for state-funded financial aid. A bill called the California Dream Act is working its way through the state legislature. It would allow students who attended at least three years at a California high school to apply for financial aid.

NPR’s Carrie Kahn has our report.

CARRIE KAHN: Sofia Campos came to California when she was six. Her parents brought her and her two younger siblings from Peru. Campos said she had no idea her family had overstayed their visas. She didn’t find out she was here illegally until she was ready to go to college.

Ms. SOFIA CAMPOS: When I was 17, I tried to apply for federal financial aid. So I asked my parents for the Social Security number, and that’s when they had to tell me that I didn’t have one. [link]

President Obama is on the record as supporting the DREAM act nationally and it was introduced (yet again) in the US Senate in May of this year.

This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal and deportable alien students who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. legally or illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning, the students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period. Within the six year period, a qualified student must have “acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States,” or have “served in the armed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge.”[3] Military enlistment contracts require an eight year commitment, with active duty commitments typically between four and six years, but as low as two years.[4][5] “Any alien whose permanent resident status is terminated [according to the terms of the Act] shall return to the immigration status the alien had immediately prior to receiving conditional permanent resident status under this Act.”[6] [Wikipedia].

But this might all be too late for Mandeep Chahal. Deportation day could be Tuesday. You might want to write a letter against this if you have a minute today:

Mandeep, a DREAM Act eligible student, and her mother face imminent deportation on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. Mandeep grew up in Mountain View, California and attended Santa Rita Elementary School and Egan Junior High School. She graduated from Los Altos High School in 2009 and is now an honors pre-med student at UC Davis.

Mandeep came to the United States in 1997 when she was six years old, and only discovered she was undocumented when she was 15.

If Mandeep and her mother are forced to leave, their family will be torn apart and Mandeep’s two U.S. Citizen siblings will be left without their mother. [link]

Kids shouldn’t pay for the “sins” of their parents. Especially if they work hard and have the potential of making our society better. Enough with the out of control “enforcement only” way of dealing with immigration.

Continue reading