Copyrighted material


by Julie Johnson

on Casualties in the Border War

(PNS) -- Monisha Charania moved 2,000 miles from Texas to California to go to college. But she never felt as far away from them as she did on Tuesday, June 12th. That day Charania woke up in her San Francisco apartment to find a half dozen missed calls on her cell phone. Those missed calls were panicked messages from her father saying Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrived at their Texas home early that morning and were arresting him, her mother and younger brother.

While there's no dispute that the family had run out of legal options for asylum, which they petitioned for when they arrived in the United States in 1994, her parents were granted employment-based visas last year. Now they face deportation. The question is why ICE would spend resources on detaining a family going through legal channels to stay in the United States, sending the parents to Western Texas and flying their 16-year-old son to Chicago, when there are many alternatives to detention, says their lawyer, John Wheat Gibson. ICE did not return this reporter's calls for comment.

"[ICE] could have just sent me a letter, asking my clients to report," says Gibson. "We could have arranged to sell their house."

Charania, 23, must now put her job on hold to be the family advocate, working with their lawyer and trying to build visibility for her family's case.

She's in a good position to be family spokeswoman. Charania graduated with honors from the University of California at Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business. But nothing could prepare her for the phone call from her 16-year-old brother, Ali. Wednesday morning Ali was flown five states away to a Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement facility near Chicago. He was able to call her once he arrived, and over the phone Ali said the officer who escorted him on the flight had threatened him and held himself uncomfortably close physically to Ali.

"The officer told him he had no family," says Charania. "My brother told me, 'I cried until I couldn't cry anymore.'"

The Charanias moved to Texas from Bombay, India when Charania was 10 years old and Ali was three. In Bombay, her father, Nazir Charania, worked as a tax accountant and was very involved in volunteer work in the Muslim community, eventually becoming president of the local Muslim League. This volunteer work is what caused local Hindu fundamentalist groups to start threatening the family, says Charania. In their application for asylum, they cited threats over the phone and on notes left on the door to kill the father and kidnap their daughter.

Charania says it was a struggle being Muslim in a predominantly Hindu India. Her parents realized that and even chose a name for her that was similar to one common among Hindu girls. "That way I wouldn't have trouble in school," she says.

But in the spring of 1994, Nazir was attacked and beaten outside his office and their home was ransacked. Fearing for their family's safety, her parents decided to leave for the United States. They arrived in Dallas and immediately applied for asylum. What followed was a stream of immigration attorneys who have either since been disbarred or gone bankrupt from various malpractice suits, according to their current attorney John Wheat Gibson.

The Charania family's legal misfortunes are all too common for immigrants who must rely on immigration attorneys to navigate an aspect of the legal system many say is more complicated than the tax code. Filing paperwork on time and keeping clients up-to-date on their standing can mean the difference between deportation or residency.

An application filed past the deadline caused the courts to deny the Charanias' petition for asylum in 1999. However a judge granted a stay of deportation, allowing her parents to apply for employment-based visas, which were granted finally in September 2006.

Gibson says all they can do now is wait for DHS to decide if they can stay on their employment visas. "There's no legal remedy," Gibson says. "All we can do now is hope the government will do something decent."

In the meantime, Charania is allowed two 10-minute phone calls per week with her brother.

She's learned that her parents were sent to the Rolling Plains Regional Jail and Detention Center outside of Austin, Texas, but has not been able to communicate with them.

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Albion Monitor   June 15, 2007   (

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