Hope Mustakim speaks out about her husband’s detention at a GEO facility in South Texas

hopenaz.jpgHope Mustakim speaks out about her husband’s detention at a GEO facility in South Texas. In her own words, she takes us on a personal journey–where she delineates how she met Naz, the struggles they’re currently undergoing–and what would happen if he were deported to Singapore. To learn more about how you can support Hope and Naz,
visit her website: 
http://www.wesupportnaz.com/- Iliana

I needed a fresh perspective. A change. Something that challenged my comfortable American beliefs. In 2009, I received the opportunity to move from Houston to Waco, TX to work as an intern for a nonprofit organization called Mission Waco that works with the city’s marginalized and disadvantaged. Little did I know that I would not only discover my “calling” there, but I would also meet the person with whom I’d share my lifelong passions and dreams. As I was learning to see homelessness, poverty, and addiction in a new light, I was working at a homeless shelter beside someone who constantly made me laugh, challenged me, and impressed me. Before even meeting Naz, I’d heard about his redemptive story. He was a recovering addict, celebrating over four years clean from a drug that claims tens of thousands of lives each year. He’d had his run-ins with the law, and therefore had been court-mandated to rehabilitation. He chose Mission Waco’s faith-based treatment program, and it changed his life—he found freedom from his addiction. I learned quickly that Naz was a man of his word through watching the way he served others. Months later, after growing in genuine friendship, we sat down to talk about what the future held for us. When he said confidently, “I’m committed to this,” I knew he meant it. I’d attended several meetings with Naz at a 12-step recovery program, and I witnessed his raw honesty as he spoke about his struggle with character defects and the way he was finding victory and healing. It changed something in me.

After the summer, I left Waco and returned to Houston to finish community college and pray about the possibility of relocating to this broken city, transferring to Baylor University, and starting a new life among the poor. The city just stole my heart; the inner city kids and their tattered clothes and precious smiles, the homeless folks and their sincere hugs, and the community of believers that lives out the Gospel in a more real way than I’d ever seen. Oh, and Naz, of course! I returned to Waco in December and shared in the joy of watching him graduate from Texas State Technical College, and start his own web design business.

We were married on July 31, 2010 at a beautiful lakeside ceremony in Montgomery, Texas.  We returned from our honeymoon and had another ceremony at Church Under the Bridge with all our friends from the shelter and those who were unable to travel. It was a sweet, special day. A few months later, we purchased our first home in one of the most dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods in Waco because of our desire to be part of its renewal and redevelopment. I was completing my second semester at Baylor University and Naz supported me entirely. Financially, emotionally, and spiritually, we were a team. Life wasn’t easy- but it was good. That is, until I.C.E. barged in and hauled Naz away.

Naz, in the darkest times of his active addiction, made some choices that landed him in court. He signed a plea bargain and was sentenced to 6 months of treatment and 10 years of probation. Naz, without hesitation, obediently fulfilled his responsibilities and became a changed man. He is totally and completely rehabilitated…but he wasn’t born in the US. Naz has been a legal permanent resident since 1992. He was 13 years old when his mother moved him and his three sisters to the States to join her and his stepfather. Having been here since adolescence, Naz never realized that his behaviors could have an impact on his residency, but he never had a reason to—he was a stellar student and felt just as American as his peers.

It’s been six years since Naz has touched any sort of mind-altering substance.  He’s not only changed his life for his own betterment, but is compelled to give back to the community that believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself. His probation officer was shocked to hear of ICE’s actions, and assured us she’d had nothing to do with it. The chief of police in a nearby town shared with me that Naz’s flawless probation record means nothing to ICE– Secure Communities (SComm) has a quota to meet and Naz was an easy pick-up. Naz is not only a non-threat to society but also an asset. Though his felony possession charge makes him “removable,” ICE doesn’t have to remove him. They can drop this and leave him here, working, worshipping, and loving—to continue his investment in our community.

I am grateful for the support system we do have in Waco and around the country; however, nothing will fill the void of my husband’s absence. I have trouble sleeping, eating well, and just staying focused enough to complete ordinary daily tasks. I don’t find joy in the things that Naz and I used to do together. After our home was robbed in January, I’ve always had a lingering fear for my safety, and sleeping along has only intensified it. Being a full time student at Baylor made it impossible for me to work more than part-time, so Naz was the breadwinner for our home, bringing in 3 times as much income as I do. However, I now have to put school on hold while I go back into the workforce full time to pay our bills and attorney fees on my own. I visit Naz twice a month, over 260 miles away at South Texas Detention Complex. I stay with a friend but it still costs us over $100 in gas—but it is a priority. We are given one hour through a glass window, and it kills me every time, to not be able to reach out and hug the love of my life. I love to see his face. He has a strong, encouraging spirit, and we stay connected each day through prayer and reading together over the phone and I keep him updated on work, church, and home life. The phone calls cost us nearly $400 a month, but if it weren’t for them, I don’t know where we’d be. Our marriage is sustained by communication and prayer.

One month ago, we thought Naz was coming home. Our friends, church, and neighborhood were so excited! And I can’t even explain the heaviness I felt when our attorney informed me that his application for humanitarian parole was denied. He would’ve been able to await his October hearing at home in Waco, going back to work, reconnecting with his community, and supporting me in the meantime. Our attorney, Pascual Madrigal, provided a plethora of substantial documentation, support letters, thousands of petition signatures, etc., and still his application was denied. And for what reason? ICE’s Assistant Field Office Director, Adrian Ramirez, cited INA 236(c), which states that someone in Naz’s position isn’t eligible for BOND. But– we were not applying for BOND because we knew he was ineligible. That is the point- we were going beyond that and requesting humanitarian parole because of the extenuating circumstances of his detainment. The saddest part is that clearly, Mr. Ramirez did not pay enough attention to Naz’s application to notice that.

I feel so powerless, knowing that my husband’s health and safety is in the hands of GEO staff. When he is ill, he waits days before seeing a doctor, as his “requests” are sluggishly (if at all) responded to. He works in the kitchen for $3 a day, and even at that ridiculously unfair wage, they still can’t remember to pay him for all of his workdays. So if he wants to be paid for those days, he has to submit another request that will likely go unanswered. He’s put in numerous requests for extended visitation hours with me, since I drive from Waco, but not one has been responded to. He has requested several times to be able to give me his car keys, cell phone, and wallet from his property and of course, no reply. I know that my husband would never treat someone that way, and I wish for one day, the GEO and ICE staff could be on the other end of it. To know what it feels like for all of your dignity to be suddenly stripped from you and to be treated like another face in the crowd. But hopefully, this will all be through in October.

If Naz is deported to Singapore, he and I will have no family to return to, as his conversion from Islam to Christianity caused his family to express their disdain for the shame he has brought upon them in their Muslim community. It is also very likely that he will face harsh punishment, if not execution by the Singaporean government for his drug offense in the US. Having previously been a Singaporean police officer, his punishment would typically be doubled. (Naz went to Singapore at age 18 to fulfill his 2-year national service requirement and then returned to the States, still as a resident.) Singapore’s laws are extremely harsh, and since Naz is still a citizen there, it is unknown what their reaction will be to his offenses committed in the US.  So, we are praying that the Immigration Judge handling his case, Judge Thomas Crossan, Jr., understands this risk and grants Nazry “withholding of removal,” so that our lives may return to what they were– working hard in our community and serving and loving those we are sharing life with.

My hope is that Americans will come to see that all immigrants have their own individual story. We cannot box any people group into a stereotype and it be healthy, productive, or beneficial. My husband isn’t “an illegal;” though actions may be illegal, people are not. And yes, he did make mistakes, and he did have a drug addiction, but how many other American people do, too? And how many of those people can say that they’ve not only kicked the addiction but are passionate about seeing other addicts find freedom and recovery, too? Our government made a detrimental mistake in 1996 when they took away the Immigration Judges’ ability to grant discretionary relief to those immigrants who they saw evidence of true change. Now, there is no grace, no reward for positive behavior, and it only depersonalizes the immigrant that stands before them.

I am doing any and everything to bring Naz home. I began immediately with a homemade T-shirt shop in my living room, in efforts to raise awareness and funds. This T-shirt making frenzy ignited a passion inside me. A passion to not only see my husband out of a place he never deserved to be in, but a passion to ignite a righteous anger inside our community members for the sake of America’s broken immigration system. The cooperation and compassion of my community has been one of the most amazing acts of service I have ever witnessed. Media networking has been the lifeline of our campaign. Facebook updates, Naz’s webpage, and blogs have all been a source of hope to both my husband and I. Although we have been embarking on a journey that we never planned or imagined, the love and care of those around us has given us the physical and emotional stability to continue to move collectively towards social change.

I can say with certainty that moving to Waco challenged my comfortable American beliefs in ways that I never imagined. May all the immigrants, documented or undocumented, feel a sense of confidence and joy today knowing that someone out there is desperately praying and fighting on their behalf.

Written by: Hope Mustakim
Co-written by: Kristie McManus

July 15, 2011

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