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Web Exclusive: Can Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan Survive Trump? Pt. 2

Web ExclusiveJune 21, 2017
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Part 2 of our conversation with New Yorker reporter Jennifer Gonnerman and Mohammad Razvi, founding executive director of Council of Peoples Organization.

Watch Part 1 || Can Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan Survive Trump? Inside One Family’s Fight to Stop Their Deportation

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StoryJun 21, 2017Can Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan Survive Trump? Inside One Family’s Fight to Stop Their Deportation
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Part 2 of our discussion about a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, called Little Pakistan and whether it can survive the presidency of Donald Trump. That’s the question posed by a new piece in The New Yorker magazine. Its author, Jennifer Gonnerman, looks at a part of the story of Shahid Ali Khan and his family, who are facing possible deportation. They came to this country decades ago, when his little son was suffering from a heart ailment. He was operated on at Mount Sinai and now is in his twenties. He faces severe medical obstacles. The doctors are rooting for him and treating him. But the question is: Will the Shahid Ali Khan family be able to stay in this country, as they’ve been told that they have to go to ICE headquarters at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City on July 6, the meeting scheduled at the ICE enforcement and removal field office? That meeting could determine if the family can stay in the United States. How typical is this story?

Well, we’re joined by two guests: Mohammad Razvi, founding executive director of Council of Peoples Organization, and we’re joined by Jennifer Gonnerman, the staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, who wrote the piece, “Fighting for the Immigrants of Little Pakistan.”

I first want to go back to Jen, to ask you to describe Little Pakistan in Brooklyn for us.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: You know, this area is in central Brooklyn. Coney Island Avenue is the main street. Right after Trump enacted his first travel ban, a week into the presidency, I went to see Mr. Razvi and find out what was going on, and basically hung out in his office, off and on, for the next three or four months, to try to see the impact of the Trump administration on this neighborhood, this Pakistani neighborhood.

And, you know, while there’s been press coverage of hate crimes and other sort of, you know, egregious injustices, it felt to me that the true story was sort of not really being covered. It was the things that were less tangible, less visible, less quantifiable. It was people on the—stopping him on the street, begging for help clarifying their immigration status. It was children being targeted and bullied in school but afraid to tell their parents. It was mothers in headscarves on subway platforms being harassed, abused, and having nowhere to go and no recourse. So it was the way in which folks’ day-to-day lives, their ability to go through life without being stressed and feared, fearful all the time, the way that had completely changed under Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad Razvi, describe—compare what’s happening now to what happened after 9/11. Start there. You’ve been here for many decades. Talk about what happened with your family then. Now, again, of course, September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center towers came down, none of the people—none of the hijackers were Pakistani. And yet the Pakistani community felt the brunt of the assault afterwards, the blowback on this, on what had taken place.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Well, you know, right after September 11, I still remember, my daughter, you know, she was being harassed. And my—

AMY GOODMAN: She wore a headscarf.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: She wore a headscarf.

AMY GOODMAN: And how old was she?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: And she was—at that time, she was about 9 years old. And when I realized what was happening with my daughter, she asked me, you know, “Is this Muslims? Are these Muslims who did this?” And I had to reiterate that, to my—all my kids, that these are not Muslims who did this. These are bad people, and they have nothing to do with your religion. My neighbors, who are Italian paesans, they said, “Mo, what’s going on? How could your guys do this?” I said, “We have nothing to do with this.” One thing leads to another.

Because the trust that we had within the community, people started coming to our stores, my store, my dad’s store: “My husband’s arrested. My brother’s arrested. My father’s arrested. What do I do?” And that’s where we started to—we all formed this organization, just to help the individuals for six months. What turned—what was supposed to be six months, now it’s been 15 years and still continuing. What was 1,000 square feet now is a 20,000-square-foot office. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, your organization had a different name then.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Back then, we were Council of Pakistan Organization. We were just looking at the Pakistani community. But everyone else also started coming in—the people who were from Bangladesh, people who were from India, individuals who were from the Latino community. And we changed the name, and we started helping everyone. But the—

AMY GOODMAN: And so you changed “Pakistan” to “Peoples.”

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: We changed “Pakistan” to “Peoples.” And the discrimination that was happening, that was the fear. And that was such a fear, where many members, they actually fled Little Pakistan, they fled Brooklyn, and they—they were so afraid. They were afraid of special registration program. And they went to Canada. They went back to their home countries. And this is what’s been going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain the special registration program, when—this was under President Bush.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Under President Bush, special registration program was where individuals who had visas from foreign countries, predominantly—there were about 25 countries, predominantly Muslim countries. They were required to special register with the FBI and INS. Individuals went to register, because this was a form that they were saying it was a safety to find out who are the bad people, who are the terrorists. And over 85,000 actually special registered. Not one individual was even alleged to have any ties to the 9/11 attacks or any terrorism. However, they put 13,000-plus people into deportation proceedings. And one of those cases was Shahid Ali Khan. And Shahid Ali Khan, that was the reason why he was picked up in 2005, because he voluntarily special registered with INS.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, he was picked up then. But he managed to have his deportation stayed. It’s now over 20 years.


AMY GOODMAN: No, 10 years.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Over 10 years. And not only that, but he also was able to provide for his family because he had a work authorization. I remember still, I was in Manhattan, and I was about to take a train, and he was blowing the horn from his yellow cab, telling me, “Look, look, now I can drive, and I can support my family. I’m no longer a day laborer. Thank you so much.” And he stopped me in the street. He was so happy. He was providing for his family. He’s still providing for his family, and he’s working so hard. But now his family is also in deportation proceedings. Previously, it was just him.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what has changed? Because under President Obama, even his allies, his immigrant rights allies, ended up calling him the “deporter-in-chief.” He deported more immigrants in this country, millions of immigrants, than any president before, certainly more than President Bush. So, what has changed now from President Obama to President Trump?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Well, Obama didn’t say, “I’m deporting you because you’re a Pakistani. I’m deporting you because you’re a Latino. I’m deporting you, or I’m doing this, I’m taking”—our current president, he ran on the campaign: “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.” And what’s caused, at this moment—it’s coming from—so, if the president is saying that I can punch somebody because they said something, that’s good, I can do this, or I can hate someone. At this moment, so many people are being discriminated against, and it’s because the president is saying certain things. It’s unfortunate. The fear factor is growing, as Jennifer is mentioning. I have a map in my office, and it’s pinpointing all the hate crimes that are happening. And it’s spreading all the way through all the states.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as you pointed out, men—people who signed up for special registration, a number of them were targeted. Now, you’ve chosen the route, in your community, to work very closely with the FBI, the police, to introduce the community to them. And you hold these sessions where you have them all together. Also ICE?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: ICE also, recently.



AMY GOODMAN: And there are those who criticize this. You have a quote in your piece, Jen. Fahd Ahmed, the executive director of DRUM, a South Asian immigrants’ rights organization in Queens, said he thought Razvi’s close ties to law enforcement compromised him as a community activist. Ahmed said, “There is a commitment to that relationship and essentially to being a legitimizer for law enforcement within our communities.” What about that, saying that you’re opening up the community to more surveillance, to law enforcement that’s going after you?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: So the most important thing, what I’m doing is I’m bringing the people to the table, having a conversation, explaining to them. After the ban that they had on—the Muslim ban, I had an emergency meeting with the FBI, with Muslim leaders, and Muslim leaders who have congregations of thousands of people. And we sat down there, and we explained to them what was the situation and how the community is fearful. The people on the street are stopping me, and they are afraid that FBI is going to become an immigration enforcement and it’s going to start picking up people. Within 12 hours, FBI issued a statement and said, “Mr. Razvi, this is our statement, and this is what we’re going to adhere to. We are looking forward to always continue the dialogue and conversations, communications, because that’s what’s going to be making us safe.”

AMY GOODMAN: Are the police working with ICE in New York City?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Not that I have seen. However, ICE has an outreach program. They’ve just recently reached out to us. They had seen what we have done with other agencies. And I explained to them, “People hate you. People do not like you. If you really want to work and understand, you have to really understand the people and what these families are going through. Don’t just pick up the families and split them apart. That’s not what America is about. You have to really reconsider of the steps that you’re taking.”

AMY GOODMAN: One vocal critic of the New York Police Department and its spying on the Muslim community is Linda Sarsour, who appeared on Democracy Now!, well, a number of times, but I want to go to a time in 2013. At the time, she was director of the Arab American Association of New York.

LINDA SARSOUR: And what the NYPD wanted to do to my organization—they clearly laid this out in a secret document—is they wanted to recruit a confidential informant to sit on my board. So not only were they creating listening posts and going into our restaurants, coming to our events, coming—acting as clients in our organizations, they wanted to actually have someone who would have—who would be a deciding figure on my board. They’d have access to donors, access to information, access to financial information. And I think that the—we keep learning that the program is just more outrageous. And what it does is it creates psychological warfare in our community.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Linda Sarsour. “Psychological warfare in our community,” she says. Mohammad Razvi?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: I don’t think it creates a psychological warfare. At this moment, as we are sitting, and sitting at the table, we are discussing, if there’s a imminent—if there’s a imminent threat, the information is sent through our community members, and we disseminate. We are trying to locate the wrong people. It is upon—incumbent upon us, if there’s a bad person who’s coming into the mosque, for us to report that person. Many of the members of the Muslim community who actually came with me to support the—not the program, but support the idea that if there’s a bad person in the mosque, if there’s a bad person in our community, we want the law enforcement to go get him. And if you’re looking for someone who’s a bad person, who was the 42nd Street bomber, attempted bombing, let us know. We’re going to also look for him. And that’s the change that we have been building together. We have now over a thousand police officers that are in the NYPD. That didn’t happen back then. We have over hundreds—

AMY GOODMAN: When you say “We have,” you mean that who are—


MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Who, as a Muslim—

AMY GOODMAN: —who are Muslim police officers.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Muslim community has now over a thousand police officers in the NYPD. They’re sergeants. They are captains, which we never had. And this is what we have been promoting.

AMY GOODMAN: As you did your piece, Jen, the feelings about law enforcement in the Muslim community, your sense of that?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Well, you know, I think the lowest point was obviously what you’d mentioned earlier, the 2011, 2012 revelations by the Associated Press about the rampant surveillance in mosques, student groups, all over the city, and, you know, the NYPD’s decision to have this years-long, sweeping surveillance campaign, where it was sort of spying on everybody and anybody who was Muslim. And it wasn’t about where they had suspicions of wrongdoing. It was just sort of like this almost sociological study of Muslims throughout the whole city. And I think, in general, law enforcement has moved away from that approach towards, you know, as Mr. Razvi said, hiring Muslims and bringing them into the agencies to have a different and a much, you know, more nuanced approach.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about what happened just this week, on Monday, the Supreme Court ruling Muslim men detained after September 11th attacks can sue top U.S. law enforcement officials. What about that?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: You know, following 9/11, all these individuals that were swept up—the family members are coming to Mr. Razvi’s store on Coney Island Avenue—many of them were taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and kept for long periods of time and horribly mistreated. And Mr. Razvi would hear the stories. And I don’t know, did anybody believe you at the time of what was going on?


AMY GOODMAN: How many people were detained?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: At that time—

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds and hundreds.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: —hundreds of people were detained.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Hundreds, who—I think it was about 762.


JENNIFER GONNERMAN: And of those, 500 were detained in New York. More than 200 were Pakistani. Pakistanis were the—the country represented the greatest by the number—by these 9/11 detainees. And these—and following, a couple years afterwards of this report, he—Mr. Razvi actually brought one of them. The Inspector General’s Office at the Justice Department did a report about some sort of—the September 11 detainees, how the FBI was picking up everyone and anyone on immigration charges, regardless of whether or not they were connected to the terrorist investigation. And then, subsequently, there was a second report about the rampant mistreatment at the jail in Brooklyn. And the conditions there and the treatment of those September 11 detainees became the subject of a lawsuit that went on for 15 years, fought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and which was decided by the Supreme Court earlier this week not in their favor. And their—they had been hoping to hold accountable, personally accountable, federal officials, folks like John Ashcroft, who oversaw this whole thing, for the constitutional violations that had happened. And they were ultimately unsuccessful.

AMY GOODMAN: So they’re saying they cannot sue.


AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad Razvi, the significance? And the descriptions of the men, how they were treated in jail?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: I think it’s unfortunate that they cannot sue. I think there should be something to that effect. They should have been able to, because the treatment that they had given—and I still have this wristband of one individual who was treated and how he was treated, when they went to his—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re holding up a red wristband.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: It’s a wristband from a county jail in New Jersey. This young man was 20 years old. He was late to report and enroll into a—into the college about a week and a half. Because of that, he was picked up, detained, put into a county jail. Twenty-year-old young man, who was not a criminal, who violated a INS ordinance, was put into county jails with a red jacket and a red band saying ”INS” after 9/11. The abuse that person received, not just from the inmates, from others, was unbearable. He said, “Whatever you want me to sign, I’m guilty of everything. Let me leave.” The judge posted bail: $6,000. After the judge posted bail, it took me 12 hours to try to get him out. If he would have killed someone and the judge posted bail for a thousand dollars, I could have gotten him out in four hours. But this is the treatment that these individuals were getting, and it’s wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, what they described in the Manhattan detention center, what happened to them?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: In detention center, Manhattan, they will take—


MOHAMMAD RAZVI: They were beaten. But not only that, then these individuals were put into—and this is what I’m worried about what’s happening now—they’re taken into Pennsylvania detention centers. They’re taken into other county jails in different states.

AMY GOODMAN: These are for-profit centers?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: And these are for—and the sad part is, a person cannot get their attorneys to come travel three hours or four hours away. It’s just not going to happen. I remember one client was all the way in Pennsylvania. How can these people get the help that they need, or the attorneys?

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel that’s done on purpose?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Absolutely, by all means.

AMY GOODMAN: So, with all your connections with law enforcement, this can’t be stopped?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: This is something with other administration. I don’t know where—how far up it is on the ladder. But, absolutely, this is something I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of our fellow Americans discriminating against Muslims and South Asians because of what the president is saying. These are the discriminations that happened after 9/11.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a major loose-leaf binder that says “Discrimination Against South Asians and Muslims After 9/11: Survey by Council of Pakistan/Peoples Organization.”

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: So that’s a survey that the city put together—and Mr. Razvi has hundreds of copies that his organization distributed—asking folks about types of discrimination they may have experienced after 9/11, so whether it could be getting a job, trying to get an apartment, treatment at school. A lot of them are filled out by young people. I read many of them, probably all of them. And a lot of them have to do with folks being mistreated in their schools and trying to get some kind of help from a teacher or from a school administrator and not being heard, not—people not understanding what they’re saying. And so, those—you know, those stories, which would never make the newspaper, but that define people’s daily existence, are extraordinarily important. And so that—in The New Yorker piece, I mention Mr. Razvi taking this binder around to different meetings back in 2002, 2003, to try to wake up city officials about what was going on in their own five boroughs.

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: So, I don’t want to take just one story. I actually—because now we have over 50 individuals coming to our store—coming to our store—coming to our office every day. That’s over almost 10,000 people. When you’re asking, “Do you have the pulse on the community?” I do have the pulse on the community—what’s happening, how many discriminations are happening, what people are asking for. And they’re all in the same boat. They’re asking for economic. They’re asking for trying to find better jobs. They’re asking for food stamp services, enrollment—health enrollment. And there are certain issues. But that’s the difference, where I’m sitting at an office, where someone says, “Oh, do you have trust in the community?” I wouldn’t have expanded to 20,000 square feet. I wouldn’t have expanded to 35 individuals working for me. I wouldn’t have expanded to having 10,000 people coming to me annually. And as Jennifer was there for a few months, she just couldn’t believe it. I said, “Jennifer, as you’re sitting here, you’re going to see the individuals who are coming in, all the cases.” A huge Moroccan community—

AMY GOODMAN: So what hope do you have for the future?

MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Future is—at this moment, I’m asking everyone to stay together and make sure what individuals of our elected officials, some of them, are saying, especially our leader. It is not right, and we need to stand up for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad Razvi, I want to thank you so much for being with us, founding executive director of Council of Peoples Organization, and Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. We will link to her piece, “Fighting for the Immigrants of Little Pakistan.” This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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Can Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan Survive Trump? Inside One Family’s Fight to Stop Their Deportation

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