It took the intervention of Brookings President Strobe Talbott, himself a former Assistant Secretary of State, to get this Pakistani Scholar freed from the new forces who are now arresting known people gestapo-like on the streets of Washington.
Brookings Scholar Is Detained by INS
Registration Rule Snags Pakistani Editor
By George Lardner Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 30, 2003; Page A01
Ejaz Haider is an editor with Pakistan's most respected English-language newsweekly and a visiting research scholar at the Brookings Institution, one of Washington's most prominent think tanks.
A good friend of his country's foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, he attended a conference Monday at Brookings Kasuri held as part of a campaign against relentless enforcement of U.S. immigration rules.
On Tuesday, however, Haider became one of the latest people detained in the government's registration program for temporary foreign visitors when two armed INS agents accosted him on the street and took him into custody.
"We were stunned. I never thought I'd see this in my own country: people grabbed on the street and taken away," said Stephen P. Cohen, head of the Brookings South Asia program for which Haider worked. "If he hadn't come into the building to show the agents some notes, it's not clear we would have known where he was."
According to the Justice Department, Haider had missed a deadline to check in with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Haider, however, said officials at the State Department and INS had both told him he could ignore the requirement to check back within 40 days of registering upon arrival at Dulles International Airport.
"They probably had been keeping me under surveillance for some time," Haider said.
"They asked me if my name was Ejaz Haider, I said 'yes,' they showed me their IDs, and just asked me why I hadn't gone in for some interview."
Kasuri said he brought up the case at a meeting with Attorney General John D. Ashcroft yesterday.
"Everybody was embarrassed," Kasuri said. "I told him that it is this sort of thing that is going to happen [if enforcement is not more restrained]. If that is the sort of person that can be nabbed, then no one is safe."
Often derided as the among government's most dysfunctional agencies, the INS was widely criticized last March when it sent out student visa approvals to two of the dead Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists six months after they had slammed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center.
Part of the reason for Kasuri's visit was to voice his government's alarm over a separate part of the program, which requires male visitors to the United States from 25 nations, most of them predominantly Muslim, to register with the INS.
After meeting with Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others, Kasuri said yesterday that he felt confident that there would be no mass deportation of Pakistani nationals.
In Haider's case, the episode may have stemmed from confusion about rules for registering male visitors, said Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez. More than 1,200 men have been detained in recent months when they appeared at INS offices.
Some of the guidelines for another part of the registration program, which takes place at U.S. airports, are classified. But Martinez said that Haider would not have been required to register simply because he arrived from Pakistan. Other factors, such as al Qaeda activity in that nation, may have come into play.
He said officials could not simply notify Haider to come in and comply with the deadline, because his willful violation of that rule would have been a criminal violation. Although Haider's account suggested a nonwillful violation at worst, Martinez said, "we don't know if everyone is telling the truth."
He said immigration officials are looking into Haider's case to determine if disciplinary action is needed.
Haider, news editor of the Friday Times, a weekly in Lahore, said he was told to leave his wallet behind and was taken to the INS detention center in Alexandria.
At the detention center, Haider said he was taken to a room with a few chairs in it and left there. Later he was photographed and fingerprinted twice, in ink and electronically. He said he was told that bond had been set at $5,000 and that "I would have to spend the night in the county jail."
"Fortunately, we were able to contact people . . . and get him released without bail," Cohen said. "It was too late to get . . . bail. Apparently, they got a call from headquarters.
"For me," he added, "the personal irony of all this is that I have four times over the last 25 years made calls to the Pakistani government to release a Pakistani journalist from one of their prisons. I never thought I would be making a plea to our own government to release a Pakistani journalist from one of our jails."
Haider said he was registered and fingerprinted at Dulles on his arrival Oct. 22 and was told he had to report to an INS office "between the 30th and 40th day of my arrival." He said it was his understanding that Pakistan had been put on the so-called entry-exit registration list last Oct. 1, but then he heard in mid-November that it had been taken off the list.
He telephoned the INS help line and the State Department, talked to officials at Brookings, and thought no more of it until Tuesday.
When he was released Tuesday night, he said he was told to make his own arrangements to return to Washington, but had left his wallet, as instructed, at Brookings.
Fortunately, he said, he had a Metro Farecard in one of his pockets. The INS agents dropped him off at the King Street Station.
"The [Pakistani] embassy told me I was very lucky," he said. "They said . . . they had left young men almost in the middle of nowhere."
Haider, who has visited the United States six times, said he cannot wait to leave and, if such policies continue, will never come back.
"This is not the United States I used to come to," he said.
Staff writer Pamela Constable contributed to this report.