After a year in the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas, Nazry Mustakim is finally at home with his wife, Hope. Nazry, or Naz, as his family and friends call him, has spent the last year navigating the complicated US immigration system, with the hopes of regularizing his immigration status and rejoining Hope.
As the Texas Independent reported, on March 30, 2011 Naz was detained by four fully armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Naz was led to believe that because of a previous drug conviction his green card was being suspended, and he would receive a hearing. It would take nearly a year for that to happen.
Because of his drug conviction, Naz was classified as an “aggravated felon” per the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Detention Watch Network has launched a campaign calling on Congress to repeal the laws mandating the detention of undocumented immigrants. The Florida Independent has reported that the law has torn families apart and may violate due process.
After extensive legal maneuvering, Janice Warder, the District Attorney in Cooke County, dismissed a previous felony drug possession charge. This paved the way for a master hearing Feb. 6, during which the prosecutor decided to grant him the waiver to cancel his deportation. Just 24 hours later, Naz was released.
Hope told the Texas Independent about the experience of picking up her newly released husband after a year apart. “I picked up Naz around 8:30 am,” said Hope. They then helped three fellow detainees get some clothes and duffel bags from a local store. “All the girlie ideas I had of our first few hours together disappeared quickly,” said Hope.
Naz is now back home with his wife, and told the Texas Independent about what it was like being home and how the experience has changed them. “Everything just keeps rolling,” said Naz. For Naz the nearly year long ordeal has been difficult. “There are times of hopelessness, powerlessness, but there are sparks of hope,” said Naz. “It is up and down. Just not knowing what the future would hold, but at the same time we know that we had God on our side.”
Part of his frustration was the lack of information available to him about his case while in detention. “I think that the officers in the detention center are clueless,” said Naz. “Most of the time they don’t know anything about your case, and can’t tell you anything.”
Naz also believes that the system can be reformed so that those who are awaiting hearings or are dealing with other immigration issues don’t have to be detained for months at a time. “They keep people there for way too long,” said Naz. “There are different ways they can ensure detainees can appear in court without incarcerating them.”
It is through this experience that Naz and Hope have become outspoken advocates for immigrant rights and against the for-profit prison system they see as the driving force behind immigrant detention in the United States.
“It’s giving us a passion to advocate for immigrants’ rights and immigration reform and to improve the perception of immigrants,” said Hope. “The media perception of immigrants is driven by a profit driven industry of private prisons. These companies like GEO and CCA hire lobbyists to pass these irrational, unreasonable, and draconian immigration laws.”
Hope also believes that anti-immigrant political rhetoric and anti-immigrant laws from Arizona to Alabama have fed into a negative perception of Latinos and people from other countries in the immigrant community.
“If you implant fear in people they will believe the worst of people,” said Hope. ”It becomes hateful, and there is a loss in humanity. As long as people are scared, they won’t care if you detain people with brown skin. It saddens me that I once thought that DHS was there to protect me. It made me sad that we are just a number to them. They say that they are about family unity, but that’s bullshit.”
“Local law enforcement and local courts need to wake up and realize that there is a large portion of immigrants, both authorized and unauthorized, who don’t know anything about immigration law,” said Hope. “What I don’t get is how we can do this over and over again with different ethnicities.”
Through it all, Naz and Hope leaned on each other and their faith. They communicated on a nearly daily basis, despite the high cost of the phone calls. They had a strong network of family, friends, and supporters.
“My faith in God has helped me not become bitter,” said Naz. “I am grateful for all the people who supported me. I know that I’m not all perfect. Because my past is why I was there, but there are people that were just trying to work and make a living that are being detained and imprisoned.”
After his ordeal, Naz said it would be easier to become bitter, but that he wants to look forward. “I saw a lot of people in there who got bitter, and angry at the United States,” said Naz. “They would say that the United States has a lack of compassion – a country that is powerful but lacks compassion. I see it that way also, but I try to look forward in a positive way.”