Justice Delayed

Zahid Chaudhry, a disabled veteran facing a deportation order, gets a one-year reprieve.

In a strange way, Pakistani immigrant Zahid Chaudhry has President Obama's ramped-up deportation policy to thank for his ability to stay in the country for at least another year. Make no mistake, the government is seeking to kick Chaudhry out of the U.S.—even though the immigrant is a disabled veteran. Last Wednesday, however, a Seattle immigration judge set the next hearing on the case for May 2012. "He said it was the first available time," Chaudhry says. "It's the normal court backlog," explains attorney Devin Theriot-Orr, who is representing Chaudhry. That's because Obama, seeking to balance a push for liberal reforms with increased enforcement, has sought to deport even more immigrants than did President Bush. Chaudhry, who lives in Olympia, declared himself relieved after the temporary reprieve. "Still, our hands are tied," he says. The case has already dragged on for years. The 38-year-old Chaudhry initially came to this country on a tourist visa. He stayed after falling in love with an American citizen he met in Yakima, where he was living with his uncle, then a math professor at Central Washington University. Chaudhry married his sweetheart in 2001 and filed an application for permanent residency. While that application worked its way through the massive bureaucracy that is the immigration system, Chaudhry received permission to work in the U.S. He promptly signed up for the National Guard—generally not the first place most immigrants with a newfound ability to earn American dollars go. He was called to active duty, but never made it to Iraq with the rest of his unit. He says he suffered a debilitating back injury during training, which left him in a wheelchair. You'd think his service, not to mention his marriage to a citizen, might work in Chaudhry's favor as he sought to become a naturalized American. But the feds instead ordered him deported on the grounds that he had lied to government officials. He said he had never been convicted of a crime in his former country of residence, Australia, when in fact he had pleaded guilty to several fraud-related charges. Working then as a taxi driver, he had picked up a passenger's dropped passport and used it, according to police, to apply for a bank account under a false name, among other things. (Chaudhry maintains he is innocent despite the guilty pleas.) Even more serious, as far as the immigration court is concerned, is the feds' contention that Chaudhry represented himself as an American citizen when he applied to become an unpaid reserve officer with the Yakima Police Department. (Now that's a job worth lying for, right?) Chaudhry says he never intended to do so. (He checked the box that asked if he had proof of citizenship, whereas he'd marked an x to answer other questions in the affirmative). A federal judge, however, wasn't convinced. In October, Judge Lonny Suko dismissed a case brought by Chaudhry to reverse his deportation order, saying that he found a "disturbing pattern of deceit." While Chaudhry appeals, his case returns to immigration court. He has rallied a number of supporters—dozens demonstrated outside the building that houses Seattle's immigration court last Wednesday—who say they see a different disturbing pattern. Chaudhry is being targeted, they claim, because he comes from a Muslim country. Perhaps, but then again, the feds' deportation orders frequently make no sense, whether they're seeking to kick out a veteran or a person who's lived here virtually all his life.

 
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