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US Secretly Deports 131 Pakistanis

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U.S. secretly deports 131 Pakistanis

Diplomatic issues bring June airlift; no ties to terror

By Steve Fainaru

THE WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK, July 10 — In a highly unusual airlift involving hundreds of U.S. immigration officers, the Justice Department secretly chartered a Portuguese jet to deport 131 Pakistani detainees who had been held for months at INS detention facilities around the country.

A MAJORITY of the detainees, a Pakistani official said, had been arrested under a Justice Department program to locate and apprehend immigrants who have ignored previous deportation orders and who came under scrutiny after the Sept. 11 attacks. None of the detainees appeared to have links to terrorism, U.S. officials said.

U.S. and Pakistani officials arranged the airlift as a way to resolve contentious diplomatic issues that have arisen between the two countries since the Justice Department began detaining immigrants in the United States. U.S. authorities have arrested about 1,200 people, most of Arab and South Asian descent, on immigration violations and in connection with the terrorism investigation. According to the latest government figures, 74 foreign nationals are still being held on immigration charges related to the probe.

None of the detainees taken into custody after Sept. 11 has been charged with a terrorism-related crime. The detentions and subsequent deportations have been conducted in secret, drawing criticism from civil liberties advocates. Those critics say the government has illegally targeted Muslims and disrupted the lives of hundreds of people who have nothing to do with terrorism and who have built lives in the United States.

Most of the detainees, who were airlifted out of Louisiana on June 26, boarded the plane quietly and willingly, but about 40 of them were “extremely unhappy†about being deported, according to Imran Ali, a Pakistani consular officer. One briefly resisted by lying down on the tarmac, and another had to be carried onto the plane, he said. Seconds before the plane was about to taxi, a man whose wife had obtained a court order preventing his deportation was removed from the plane.

DRAMATIC ARRIVAL

The flight touched down 20 hours later in an equally dramatic scene, according to Ali, who helped plan the operation and was aboard. About 50 detainees, now shorn of the loose-fitting handcuffs they had worn throughout the trip, dropped to their knees in the 120-degree heat and pressed their foreheads to the broiling tarmac to give thanks to Allah.

“It was very moving. They were thanking God that they were free,†said Ali. “Most of them were very disappointed to have to leave the United States. Many were crying. But after being in detention for eight or nine months, they were also happy to be back in Pakistan.â€

Citing security concerns, the government did not release any information about the flight to the detainees or to their families, although all were allowed to make phone calls before departure.

The flight was originally scheduled to carry 170 detainees, but 39 obtained court rulings blocking their deportation, Ali said.

According to figures released by the Justice Department last year, 300 of those detained in the United States were from Pakistan, more than from any other country. At the urging of top Pakistani officials, including President Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. government accelerated the removal of Pakistani detainees earlier this year, deporting them with escorts a few at a time on dozens of commercial flights. But that process came to a standstill in May for administrative reasons, according to Ali.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

At the same time, U.S. authorities had begun to arrest hundreds of people who had ignored deportation orders under a new “Absconder Apprehension Initiative.â€

Planning for the charter flight began in early May, as the Pakistani ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, pressed U.S. officials to resume the removal process and also to expedite the repatriation of Pakistani nationals detained under the absconder initiative.

“The Pakistani government was extremely cooperative in helping us ensure that these individuals were repatriated with safety, speed and dignity,†said Karen Kraushaar, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS

According to U.S. officials, the operation, which involved the coordination of INS offices throughout the country, was kept quiet for security reasons. They said the government chose to use a charter flight because of concerns that a U.S. government jet would be a potential target. After accepting bids, the government chose to use a Lockheed L-1011 jet offered by a Portuguese company, Air Luxor, for $342,000. Officials involved in the planning estimated that the cost of the entire operation surpassed $500,000.

The detainees were escorted to an airport in Louisiana by INS agents from 22 cities across the United States, including Baltimore. They numbered 130 men and 1 woman, officials said. According to Ali, 26 were detainees arrested on immigration violations after Sept 11; 35 had been held on criminal charges, including rape, larceny, burglary and cocaine possession; and most of the remainder were absconders.

Of the absconders, Ali said, many had been in the United States for years and were married with children. The deportations, he said, ruptured their lives and those of their families. Ali said he believes those immigrants should be granted amnesty. “On the human scale, it’s a tragedy. But we were left with a Hobbesian choice: Either grant them their freedom or let them languish in jail,†he said.

The flight departed with 30 unarmed INS officers guarding the detainees in shifts. Dressed in civilian clothes, the INS officers stood in the aisles at all times, Ali said, one at every fifth row. The detainees were given specially blessed meals and were allowed to watch three movies. Two nurses dispensed pain-relief medicine and monitored the detainees.

Ali said he spoke with each detainee during the flight. Their main concerns, he said, were that they had been singled out because they were Muslims, and that they would be taken into custody again when they arrived in Pakistan. None was, he said. Instead, the plane pulled up at a remote location at the Islamabad airport. The detainees were questioned briefly, then released.

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I figured something like this might happen under bush, and it ain't a bad thing.

There was a fire in an apartment complex in my town some months ago, and due to the evacuation, authorities found some 3-4 DOZEN illegal immigrants staying there.

I just find it strange that we would make this an "all-Muslim" deportation. Immigration should have tried to at least mix some other ethnicities in there to keep with good PC.

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Originally posted by gmccookny

I figured something like this might happen under bush, and it ain't a bad thing.

There was a fire in an apartment complex in my town some months ago, and due to the evacuation, authorities found some 3-4 DOZEN illegal immigrants staying there.

I just find it strange that we would make this an "all-Muslim" deportation. Immigration should have tried to at least mix some other ethnicities in there to keep with good PC.

"to keep with good pc" ? please explain what you meant by that please....

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See, this is why i like that show Politically Incorrect so much... im sure this news topic arose on that show.

What i was saying was speaking from George Bush's position, in that if he wants to sour relations further with Muslim's (particularly those living in America), he couldn't have done any worse than deport an entire plane full of Pakistani's .

I just feel that he did this as a point, and it's not P.C. (politically correct) because the Muslim contingency here will not approve of this.

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Originally posted by t0nythelover

so your saying it would be more pc if we deported a mix bag of immigrants? i think somebody is gonna be offended no matter what, so is it ever really pc?

i just don't think he should be so blatant in his dislike of Muslim's by shipping off a plane full of Pakistani's. What about all the other illegal citizens in this country? What possessed him to focus just on Pakistani''s?:??

There's more to it, i feel.

And no, it is rarely ever p.c., but clinton made it look very close to p.c.

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It's pathetic that it had to take an event like 9.11 for the INS to do their fucken job! Why am I not surprised. Deport whoever needs to be and cut down on who's allowed into this country! It's the land of opportunity and some people have a different agenda.

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