Monday, September 15, 2003

By Melvin G. Talbert, Feisal Abdul Rauf and Marla J.Feldman

Two years ago, an angry young man walked into a convenience store in Dallas and killed Waqar Hasan, an innocent Pakistani man who was working hard to earn a living for his family and to become an American citizen. Mark Anthony Stroman shot Hasan to death, claiming that he “did it to retaliate on local Arab Americans or whatever you want to call them.” Stroman added that he “did what every American wanted to do but didn’t.” At his trial, Stroman held up an American flag in his defense.

But there is nothing defensible about killing a man simply because of the color of his skin or his belief in God. Waqar Hasan and the family he left behind are among the forgotten victims of the events of September 11. As a result of Hasan’s death, his wife and four daughters, who live in suburban New Jersey, now face removal from the United States unless Congress acts to permit them to remain in their adopted homeland. As American religious leaders representing three faiths — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — we believe that it would be inconsistent with our values as Americans and as people of faith to allow this family to be deported.

Though he did not die at the World Trade Center, Hasan was clearly a victim of September 11. Unlike the families of other immigrant victims of September 11, however, the Hasan family was not granted special immigrant status that would allow them to remain on the road to citizenship. Instead, after building a life in this country for nine years, the family has gone from being one step away from permanent residency to one step away from deportation.

The Hasan story in America began in 1993, when Waqar Hasan came to this country in search of a better life for his family. One year later, he brought his wife and daughters to join him — settling near relatives in Milltown, N.J., where Waqar worked at and helped manage nearby service stations. In the fall of 2001, Waqar traveled to Dallas temporarily to help his brother run a newly establishedconvenience store.

At the time of his murder, Waqar and his family had green card applications for permanent residency pending with the Immigrationand Naturalization Service. They were all but guaranteed eventual citizenship. However, today, unless Congress enacts a special bill, H.R. 867, introduced by the Hasans’ congressman, Rep. Rush Holt, the only hope the Hasan family has of staying in America will have died with their husband and father. While nothing can be done to return Waqar Hasan to his family, this legislation can prevent the further injustice of the deportation of his wife and children.

The Hasans are doing their part to make a life here in America. Mrs. Hasan works the night shift on an assembly line at a Styrofoam cupfactory.Herolder daughters work after school. Nida, the oldest, is on scholarship at Rutgers University, while Asna, the second oldest, just started her freshman year at Kean College. She wants to be a teacher.

When asked why they want to stay in America, the girls often respond that it is what their father wanted. And, they add, if they go back to Pakistan, a country they barely know, they will not have access to the opportunities that women of all faiths enjoy in America. For one, says Asna, they will no longer be able to leave their home without a male escort.

Although the events of September 11 opened our eyes to the dangers of terrorism, we cannot close our eyes to injustice, even when that injustice affects only one family. As President Bush so eloquently stated during a joint session of Congress days after the terrorist attacks:

“I ask you to uphold the values of America and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

We hope that Congress will live up to its responsibilities by passing H.R. 867 and ensuring that the Hasans remain part of our American family. We believe taking such action would not only prevent another American tragedy, but would serve as a symbol to the world of the lengths to which Americans will go in defense of their principles.

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert is ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is founder of the ASMA Society. Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

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