DREAM or Nightmare?

Original article: DREAM or Nightmare?

NOTE: This article was written in June, 2011. As of October 2012, I am legally authorized to work in the US because of President Obama’s executive order to act on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

I am a 21-year-old undocumented University of Illinois at Chicago graduate with a Bachelors degree in English literature. As my career goal is to become a professor, I need to attend graduate school. However, because of my immigration status, I am unable to work legally, apply for financial aid or student loans or federal grants. Therefore, it is virtually impossible for me to continue my education until my immigration status is adjusted and I have become legal. I had pinned my hopes on the DREAM Act which would provide undocumented students of a certain age a pathway for citizenship. My hopes were dashed when the Senate rejected the Act last December. I was back to square one.

Support the DREAM act

As is the case with the families of most undocumented students, my parents worked day and night to earn enough money to pay full tuition and fees so that I may graduate from UIC. I did not receive one cent in aid from any government scholarship, any private grant, or any student loan. I worked equally hard as my classmates and earned straight A’s in all of my English classes, almost to prove to everyone and to myself that I was competent enough to go to school in the U.S. If my parents were not extremely dedicated to their children’s education, and I was not doggedly determined that I finish college, I might not have graduated. I would probably be sitting at home in Chicago wasting away my talents or have seriously considered traveling back to Pakistan, where I am a citizen.

I quickly realized good grades are not enough for Americans to back the DREAM Act. There is widespread hostility against immigrants. They are considered leeches who feed on taxpayers’ dollars and take away jobs, only to go back to their home countries and invest in their own economies.

These ideas are incredibly misguided. Most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are hard-working, proud Americans who raise families and believe in the American ideals of liberty, dignity, and opportunity. Most of them are low-wage, working-class people who need to feed their children and pay the bills like all Americans. Critics of the DREAM Act are quick to point out what immigrants “take” from this country, but why do undocumented individuals’ contributions to this country go unmentioned? Chances are you will see an undocumented student cleaning toilets, picking fruit or flipping burgers, earning less than the minimum wage for years with no hope of a better future.

Has it not occurred to opponents of the DREAM Act that if I was to become a professor one day, which is my life’s dream, I would teach American students at an American university and pay taxes which would ultimately help the economy? Why must I be told “No” when I have worked just as hard as everyone else in my graduating class and have paid UIC four years’ worth of tuition — money which my parents could have used to buy a better home, a nicer car, or saved for retirement? Why must their sacrifices go to waste and my dreams be denied?

The answer is that while the American government is content with exploiting undocumented workers and using them as serfs, it does not want to give them rights. Lawmakers know that even if such an individual acquires a social security number, he or she will pay taxes but never get retirement benefits or social security. They will not be able to drive, or get a state-issued ID or travel outside of the country. Neither will they vote or have any say in electing their mayor or congressman or senator.

So far, the government has continued to turn the DREAM into a nightmare for millions of undocumented people. Ideas like “civil rights”, “liberty”, “justice”, and “freedom” will remain to be merely words to those who are undocumented until they are implemented and made available to us. I urge the Senate, the House of Representatives, and President Obama to back the federal DREAM Act in order to provide undocumented youth who were brought here as children a chance at success – a chance at a normal life.  Let the dream live; do not let it become a nightmare for the millions like me.


The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding – Taking a Lead

Original article: The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding – Taking a Lead


The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding is a think tank and research facility founded in Detroit, MI and located in Washington D.C., that conducts extensive, crucial research, and offers nuanced policy analysis and context to the issues facing the Muslim community in the United States and abroad. ISPU’s research and analysis are performed by highly trained scholars in the economic, foreign policy, national security, and public health fields.

Founded in 2001 in the wake of the September 11th attacks as a result of growing curiosity about Islam and Muslims, ISPU has since established itself as a respected and trusted source of valuable information about Muslim traditions, values, practices, and institutions. Since then, ISPU has published hundreds of articles, reports, and research papers written by more than two hundred scholars, graduate students, lawyers, professors, and various other academics. ISPU’s website has been accessed by people in more than 115 countries; the institute has a budget of less than a million dollars annually, and is the only think tank focused on American Muslims.

More than $42 million have been donated to Islamophobic think tanks since 2001, a frightening fact, which gives even more importance to the work that ISPU does to counter stereotypes and anti-Muslim policies in America. In 2011 alone, ISPU published extensive research on topics including the Arab Spring, Al Qaeda and terrorism, the bullying of Muslim children in schools, the legality of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, how the media is improving the image of American Muslims, and the effects of the September 11th attacks on European Muslims.

ISPU scholars have been featured heavily in the news, television, online, and print media. The institute has provided ample analysis of the futures of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S. and how the American government might make new policies which could ease tensions between these nations.

With her work at the Center for Global Health at ISPU, Dr. Sania Nishta a Pakistani cardiologist, healthcare reformer, medical academic and writer produced “Through the Health Lens: The Aftermath of the 2010 Pakistan Flood”; a report which analyzed the challenges Pakistan faces as a result of the destruction the floods caused. Currently, ISPU’s Director of Research, Farid Senzai is conducting research on the political and civic engagement of American Muslims in the ten years since 9/11 (from 2001 up till 2011).

Julie Macfarlane, a Fellow at ISPU and a Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Windsor is writing a report on the use of Islamic family law principles and values in divorce processes conducted by third parties in North American mosques. Two research reports titled “A window into American Muslim traditions” and “Aging Muslim Families” are also under production and are being actively worked on by ISPU’s experienced scholars.

In light of the societal, political, economic, and international issues still facing the Muslim community in America, it is essential that policy research institutes such as ISPU not only function well, but that they are actively supported and promoted on an international stage. Only through dialogue, policy making, civic engagement and developing a deeper understanding of Muslims and Islam will the stereotypes and injustices against them end. To that end ISPU is a much needed and appreciated tour de force of activism and information. Take the opportunity to learn more about ISPU at their website www.ispu.org and their Annual 2012 banquet in Dearborn, MI on September 15th.

Pakistan: A Pandora’s Box of Societal Ills

Original article: Pakistan: A Pandora’s Box of Societal Ills

A man from Khanewal, Pakistan buried his newborn daughter alive after doctors informed him that she was physically disabled. The shocking news, once again, raised questions of law and order, ethics, societal norms, and most importantly, women’s rights in the nation. The incident is a solemn reminder and effect of the basic lack of education in Pakistan, where 60% of the population is illiterate. Girls’ schools are few and far between in villages and even boys are encouraged to take up a trade or artisanship instead of getting an education.

In rural areas such as Kacha Koh, where this heinous crime was committed, such activities are commonplace and perpetrators are seldom punished seriously. A patriarchal society such as Pakistan, which treats men as superior to women in the household, gives husbands and fathers license to subjugate and demean women in their families. Another major factor that creates prejudice against physically disabled people is the lack of infrastructure and facilities, which makes life difficult for people with disabilities and discourages their families from accepting them as active members of the society.

In a culture where young women are considered a drain on the family because of the outdated tradition of dowry, a female infant being buried alive because of a physical deformity is not unheard of. It is a reaction to the larger issues of ignorance and superstition which give way to such behavior. Another problem which faces Pakistan today is poverty and inflation which forces the public to take extreme measures.

If a family of four cannot afford to feed themselves, they will most likely turn to illegal or criminal activity. Without education, without community support, without the planning or resources necessary to survive, they will certainly not be able to earn an honest living. Without a doubt, these are the basic reasons for the distressing rise in criminal activity in Pakistan. It is also expected that going to the police or through the court system will only hurt the family, not help them.

If this wasn’t enough, in many rural areas, contraception is either not available or majorly distrusted. Such communities use religion as a political tool in order to make their own law and order and excuse having more kids than they can afford by giving made-up justifications for their actions. It is also a way of forcing women to stay inside the home and create a separation of the genders so that women stay disempowered.

Moving forward, Pakistan desperately needs to invest in education. Like food, water, and shelter, education is a fundamental human right and if a society does not make a conscious effort to educate its population, it will never succeed. Secondly, it is essential for the nation to focus on implementation of law so that such crimes and atrocities are lessened, if not uprooted altogether. Furthermore, Pakistani society needs to empower and value its women who are just as capable, intelligent, persevering, and strong as women in any other society or country. Without these changes, Pakistan will only regress towards inequality, ignorance, and infamy.

NATO Supply Routes to Afghanistan – Reopened

Original article: NATO Supply Routes to Afghanistan – Reopened

Pakistani customs officials have reported that two trucks from Pakistan carrying NATO supplies crossed into Afghanistan through the Chaman border on Thursday, July 5th. This is the first time since last November that Pakistan has allowed the US to use its supply routes in order to strengthen American troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan had refused to let US supplies be brought into Afghanistan through its borders after the Salala check post incident on November 26th, 2011. In the incident US-led NATO aircraft had attacked and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 13 others who were stationed near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The Pakistani government’s decision to reopen the supply routes into Afghan territory comes two days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement in which she admitted that the U.S. is sorry for the losses the Pakistan military suffered during the regrettable incident and offered condolences to her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. According to Clinton, Pakistan will also continue to not charge any transit fees for incoming materials, which will save the US hundreds of thousands of dollars in transport costs.

The US relies heavily on Pakistan to supplement its war against the Afghan Taliban, not only to steadily transport supplies across the border, but also to gradually withdraw US and NATO reservoirs from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when the US plans to leave the country. The closure had forced NATO countries to bring supplies into landlocked Afghanistan through an alternate route to the north; a tedious, longwinded process that costs more than twice as much as shipping them to, and then across, Pakistan.

Several militant groups have threatened to attack supply vehicles in Pakistani territory, which makes this route a dangerous and difficult one. Before the closure, hundreds of supply trucks, which travel in convoys, were targeted in different areas of the country.

Pakistan, which has had a long history of enabling the US to carry out its conflicts against other countries in the name of diplomacy and alliances, is facing domestic backlash. The rampant anti-American sentiment in the country is a direct result of the Pakistani government’s failure to force the U.S. to stop drone strikes targeting militants, but often killing civilians, and agree to other demands made by parliament.

According to modest estimates, more than 2,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed by US drone attacks in the country and more than 5,000 civilians have died because of suicide bombings which were virtually unheard of before 2001, when Pakistan agreed to support the US in its war on terror. Critics of the Pakistani government’s foreign policy say that Pakistan’s leadership is more interested in promoting US imperialist goals and western capitalist interests rather than protecting the interests of its own people: the US has promised to give more than a billion dollars in military aid to Pakistan on the condition that it keeps these supply routes open; an offer that Pakistan is expected to take advantage of.

Simultaneously, President Barack Obama, currently battling for reelection, also faces criticism from Republicans who are angry his administration apologized to a country allegedly giving safe haven to militants attacking American troops in Afghanistan.

CAIR-Chicago Attorneys Help Iranian-American Become Citizen after Years of Delay

Original article:


Massoud Nejad, an Iranian-born American resident, first came to the United States from Iran in 1978 to study at the University of Illinois. He became a permanent resident in 2000 and applied for citizenship in December, 2008.

“My first citizenship interview was in April of 2009 and Christina was with me throughout,” Nejad recalls. The United States Central Immigration Services, or USCIS, told Nejad that he would have to wait four months for the final decision on whether his interview was successful or not. If a candidate passes the Citizenship Test, U.S. law mandates USCIS to naturalize applicants within 120 days.

After waiting for more than a year and never receiving a reply from the USCIS, CAIR-Chicago filed a complaint in federal court requesting that Nejad be naturalized.  The court remanded the case back to USCIS to make a decision, only to result in USCIS denying Nejad’s citizenship application in October 2010.

The main reason given for denial was failure to report an arrest in 1978. Nejad confirmed that he had, in fact, reported the arrest and that the reason was made up as an excuse to further delay his case.

After continuous appeals by CAIR-Chicago to USCIS, the decision was finally reversed in October of 2011, when Nejad, who has been in the U.S. for more than 30 years, was finally granted U.S. citizenship.

Throughout this time, Nejad faced countless judges, was put on probation for five years for being a political activist in Iran, was arrested several times, and harassed by the FBI. Nejad recalls how FBI agents broke into his apartment in 2008 and questioned his wife about his political past.

“I don’t know what I would have done if CAIR-Chicago was not there to help me. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” Nejad said.

Litigation Director Vodak appreciated USCIS’s cooperation, “We are glad the USCIS made the right decision of granting Nejad citizenship, even if it took them three years to do it.”

In 2010, 22 Muslims attained citizenship through CAIR-Chicago’s intervention.  In the past four years, 494 such reports have been received by the organization, out of which 317 cases have been solved.


CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab speaks at AIC conference on Islam and Muslims in America

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The American Islamic College (AIC) in Chicago held its second conference on Islam and Muslims in America in association with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Sept. 17, 2011. The conference featured Muslim leaders, scholars, and activists from around the nation and the world to discuss issues of relevance to Muslim Americans.

Participants discussed the relationship between American foreign policy and the Muslim world, the implications for democracy as demonstrated by the Arab Spring, Islam in the American context, and the future of Muslims in America and the world community.

The main focus of the conference was Islam and democracy. CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab, moderated a panel entitled “Winds of Change in the Muslim World: Implications for Democracy.”  Rehab also gave a speech in line with this theme. The purpose was to explore what is now known as the “Arab Spring” and its importance for the Arab countries striving for democracy.

Dina Rehab, AIC’s administrator and former CAIR-Chicago Outreach Coordinator said “As an academic institution, we feel it is our primary responsibility to educate the public on issues that relate to Islam and Muslims in America. The AIC conference provides a unique platform for speakers and guests to participate in these very real discussions.”

The event was a success, and brought together many prominent leaders from the interfaith community. “We heard a lot of very positive feedback this year,” Ms. Rehab recollected.  Many attendees drove in from out of state to attend.

Guest speakers included Kareem M. Irfan, Esq. Board of Trustees at AIC, Rashad Hussain, President’s Special Envoy to OIC, Hon. Jan Schakowsky, Congresswoman from Illinois, H. Excellency Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of OIC, Azeem Ibrahim from the Insitute for Social Policy and Understanding, John Edwin Mroz, President and CEO of the EastWest Institute, Jeffrey Laurenti of the Century Foundation, Muqteder Khan, Director of the Islamic Studies Program, Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director at CAIR-Chicago, Qamar-ul-Huda of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Richard W. Bulliet of Columbia University, Stephen Grand of the Bookings Institute, Zaher Sahloul, Chairman of CIOGC, Gadeir Abbas, CAIR National Staff Attorney, Imam Mohamed Magid, President of ISNA, Aisha Adawiya, President of KARAMAH, Hayrettin Yucesoy of the Washington University in St. Louis, Ayse Kadayifci of Georgetown University, Salam Al-Marayti, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Hannah S. Rosenthal, and Marica Hermansen, Board of Trustees at AIC and Loyola University with Rashad Darwish of RiseUp Radio Show as the MC.

The AIC and OIC plan to continue holding this conference annually.