Thursday, 8 July 2004

My mother the terrorist

The USA Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reportedly confirmed issuing orders last month to immigration inspectors at six USA airports (LAX, JFK, EWR, IAD, ORD, and DTW) to give special scrutiny to “all travelers of Pakistani descent, including U.S. citizens,” according to several independent reports.

The nature of the special treatment to be given Pakistani and Pakistani-Amnerican travellers remains unknown, but it’s front page news in the South Asian-American press, with even Indian-American sources — no friends of Pakistan, and in general even more suspicious of Pakistanis than the DHS — voicing concern.

Pakistan’s diplomatic protests of the second-class treatment of its citizens is also getting coverage in Pakistan and in South Asian-American media .

But the inclusion of USA citizens of Pakistani ancestry seems to have raised barely a ripple of protest. “‘Unfortunately, people of Pakistani, Indian, and Arab origin have been going through this scrutiny anyway,’ CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] [Los Angeles] chapter executive director told India-West .”

What does this mean? It means my mother, a Quaker and peace activist who leads workshops in nonviolent conflict resolution for inmates in maximum-security prisons and who was born to expatriate American-citizen parents (my maternal grandfather taught English at Forman College in Lahore, now part of Punjab University) in what was then British India and is now Pakistan, is now officially a terrorist suspect in the eyes of her government.

How does it feel, after 70 years, suddenly to become a second-class citizen? “I guess we’ll all have to say we’re from Pakistan now,” she said when I told her. “Maybe I should wear a salwar kameez the next time I go through U.S. customs.”

As a result of my mother’s place of birth, the terms of the partition of British India, and the constitutions of both India and Pakistan, I’m eligible for both Indian and Pakistani citizenship (in addition to my present citizenship by birth in the USA).

India-West says the DHS official who confirmed the story wouldn’t discuss “operational details, including how the agents will try to ascertain whether a passenger is of Pakistani origin. But he said the agents have been instructed to take particular note of recent visitors to Pakistan and ‘to look for other clues’.” Currently, there’s no way to tell from my USA passport where my parents or other ancestors were born, or what citizenship they held. But that would change if my travel documents could automatically be linked to a personal dossier through a registered traveller credential or an RFID passport .

And to how many generations of descendants will the taint of suspicion-by-place-of-birth be continued? Will my nephew be an automatic suspect, when he comes back home to the USA, if he ever tries to leave the country, perhaps to visit his grandmother’s birthplace in Lahore, or his great-grandparents’ summer home in Kashmir ? If he has children, will they be born suspected terrorists too? I don’t know, and the DHS won’t say.

Wasn’t there supposed to be some sort of prohibition on “discrimination on the basis of national origin”?

It almost makes me want to get those Indian and Pakistani passports, just for insurance. I like to travel, and I want a chance to live abroad. But I also like to come home. This is my country, where I was born and where some of my ancestors have lived for more than 300 years — almost a century longer than the present United States of America. I’m not yet ready to give up on it, or to give it up to the enemies of freedom.

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 8 July 2004, 22:02 (10:02 PM)

If it weren't for reports that India doesn't allow dual citizenship, I'd suggest just getting 'em all and using what makes the most sense in any given situation. I don't know what Pakistan does.

I've known folks with as many as three nationalities by birth and/or naturalization, who have all three passports available; flexibility in action.

Posted by: ckd, 9 July 2004, 13:53 ( 1:53 PM)
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