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Alikhan comes home

Veronica Whitney

During the five months he was detained in Aurora, Ali Alikhan was in solitary confinement for five weeks. He was handcuffed on the way to the shower. He lost 15 pounds and had a mild stroke.Alikhan, 40, was released on March 1 from the Immigration and Naturalization Service1s detention Center in Aurora, where he was detained after his Sept. 15 arrest in Montana.After bond was declined six times, an immigration judge released him under $20,000 bond. Nancy Andresen of Gypsum, Alikhan1s fiance, who had spent more than $20,000 in attorney1s fees, paid 20 percent of the bond.Since his release, Alikhan, who has an asylum hearing on May 23, spends his days worrying about the INS. He can1t leave the state<he has to report to the INS in Denver once a month<he can1t work, and he can1t drive because immigration authorities kept his drivers license.3He still has nightmares of being arrested, Andresen says. 3We1re both having different traumas. Ali worries about the INS, I worry about money.Alikhan, a native of Teheran who has lived in the Vail Valley for more than five years, was among 1,000 people<primarily immigrants and foreign visitors from Muslim countries<detained as part of the investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.He was arrested on Sept. 15 near Missoula, Mont., days after terrorists the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He and Andresen were coming back from a vacation trip to Yellowstone National Park when state police stopped them. Police said they stopped the couple for speeding. Andresen denies that, however, saying that as soon as police noticed Alikhan1s Middle Eastern name on his drivers license they asked if the couple had weapons in the car.Since then, Andresen has filed a case with Amnesty International, Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. After an initial story published in the Vail Daily, she was interviewed by several national media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC and The New York Times.On March 14, Andresen spoke at an Amnesty International press conference in New York City, where the civil rights group said post-Sept. 11 detainees have had their human rights violated, including their right to know why they have been held. Amnesty representatives said the organization has received reports of cruel treatment of detainees at the detention centers. Examples have included prolonged solitary confinement, heavy shackling and lack of exercise.In a 40-page study released at the press conference, Amnesty reported that a detainee who was slow to comply with an order to get out of bed had his head rammed into a table by a guard, chipping a tooth. The information, Amnesty said, came from visits to two jails and during interviews with lawyers, detainees, relatives and former detainees.3I got him (Alikhan) out of solitary confinement by telling INS I would talk to a TV station, Andresen says.Soon after he was released from the confinement, Alikhan had what he believed was a 3mini stroke.3He complained that his left part of the body went numb, Andresen says.3He kept asking for medical attention, but was refused. They didn1t give him a medical check-up for four months. The doctor finally says he should have been treated immediately.INS spokeswoman Karen Kraushaar rejected Amnesty1s allegations, saying the agency 3has very clearly spelled out standards that allow for the appropriate, safe and humane conditions of detention of individuals in INS custody.3The standards govern treatment for any detainee in INS custody, and we hold ourselves to those standards, she said in a statement.Alikhan says he was treated very badly in Montana, where he was also kept in isolation as he was questioned by the FBI and INS. He says authorities verbally abused him and that he wasn1t allowed a shower the entire time he was there.3They never even read him his rights or allowed him to make a phone call, Andresen says. 3Normally, you wouldn1t be put in isolation for overstaying a visa. They assumed that he was a terrorist.During the interviews with the FBI and the INS in Montana, Alikhan says, he had to answer questions beyond his visa status.3They asked me, OCan you fly a plane?1 OCan you drive a tank?1 OCan you shoot a gun?1Although the government still refuses to provide the names or the places of detention of those held for immigration violations, Amnesty reports that 327 people remained in custody by mid-February. The list of INS detainees provided their countries. The largest group were Pakistanis, followed by Egyptians, Turks, Yemenis and Tunisians.3When I was detained, Alikhan said, 3somebody told me that before Sept. 11 most people at the detention center were Mexicans. After Sept. 11, a lot are from the Middle East.The report also says that there are credible indications that most of the detainees are not connected to terrorism.3Anyone who is currently in INS custody, Kraushaar said, 3has violated the immigration laws of the United States.Amnesty, however, reports that many of those detained had been charged by the INS for visa violations, which include those who overstayed their visa, who worked illegally on a tourist visa or hadn1t completed enough courses to fulfill the requirements of a student visa.Attorneys have reported to Amnesty that normally it is a matter of two or three days before they can get a bond hearing for their clients in this type of case. For the post-Sept. 11 detainees, however, getting anyone granted bail has been extremely difficult, as unusually high bonds were set by both the INS and judges, Amnesty reports.3This has been very hard and still is, Alikhan said. 3I would still be detained if it wasn1t for Nancy.3We plan to get married as soon as we can save some money for a nice wedding, Andresen said.


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