US senator regrets Pakistani man’s deportation
* Immigrant deported despite community efforts
By Khalid Hasan
Washington: The deportation of a Pakistani immigrant who spent three years in jail for going out of his way to help a fellow Pakistani has been described by Senator Charles Schumer as “regrettable.”
Ansar Mahmood (27), who was arrested three years ago for taking pictures of a water reservoir in upstate New York, was put on a Pakistan-bound plane on Thursday night from New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport.
The deportation came despite efforts made on his behalf by such high-profile figures as Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Charles Rangel.
Sen Schumer, who lobbied unsuccessfully for Ansar to be allowed to stay, said, “It is a regrettable decision. In this instance, the punishment certainly does not seem to fit the crime.”
According to Ms Susan Davies, an organiser of the Ansar Mahmood Defence Committee, which was formed to help the former pizza deliveryman, “It is a loss for all of us who worked with him and got to know him so well.” Critics viewed the case as an overreaction to terror threats after the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to the Journal News newspaper that serves the area where Ansar Mahmood lived and worked.
Ansar was told last month that he would be deported but he was not told when. In October 2001, he was arrested after taking photos of a reservoir. He had asked security guards there to take his picture with the Catskill mountains in the background. The guards thought the request suspicious and called police. Although he was cleared within 48 hours of any connection to terrorism, but when investigators went to search his apartment, they found that he had co-signed an apartment lease and registered a car for a Pakistani couple whose visas had expired. On the advice of his lawyer, he pleaded guilty in order to avoid a harsher sentence. He was convicted of “harbouring illegal aliens,” a determination that can result in deportation. However, everybody hoped that he would not be deported.
Ansar Mahmood came to the United States in April 2000 after winning an immigration lottery. By working up to 14 hours a day as a pizza deliveryman and saving money, he was able to move his parents and younger sisters in Pakistan out of the poverty in which they were living. During his time in jail, members of the community, both Pakistanis and Americans, rallied to his defence. The Ansar Mahmood Defence Committee held rallies, wrote letters and visited Ansar at the Buffalo Federal Detention Centre. Supporters offered jobs and places for him to stay after his release, but that day was never to come.
Ms Davies summed up the feelings of the community best when she said that the situation was sad. “He was a real friend, and we had a picture of what it would be like for him to come back to the county. We got to know him so well, we knew the gifts he had - the intelligence, the warmth, the humour and generosity.”