Coping with 9-11
Andresen and Alikhan are part of thousands of people still coping with the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which left more than 3,000 dead.
“We’re also victims of 9-11,”says Andresen of Gyspum. “My life was completely torn apart after 9-11. My credit is destroyed now and our relationship almost ended. “
Alikhan, 40, of Gypsum, was detained in Montana on Sept. 15 and taken to the Immigration and Naturalization Service corrections facility in Aurora where he spent six months. While her boyfriend of five years was in jail, Andresen split her time juggling her job as an art consultant in Beaver Creek with trips to Denver to see their attorney. By the time Alikhan was released in March, Andresen had spent $25,000 in his case. She had also been interviewed by national and international media and had been a guest speaker for Amnesty International at its March press conference in New York City about post Sept. 11 detainees.
“The other day I was watching Bush (President) talking on TV about the American spirit and liberty and freedom, and that’s what I did, I fought for Ali’s freedom,” Andresen says.
Alikhan, a native of Teheran who has lived in the Vail Valley for more than five years, was arrested days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He and Andresen were on a vacation when state police stopped them for speeding near Missoula, Mont. They drove because their flight had been grounded after the attacks.
As soon as police saw that Alikhan had a Muslim name, Andresen says, they asked if they had guns in the car. She said, no. After that, they arrested him. Alikhan was then questioned by the FBI for being an illegal alien in the United States – his visa had expired. He was kept in isolation for 45 days and had six bond hearings – bond was always declined until a judge released AliKhan from custody under a $20,000 bond – Andresen paid $4,000, 20 percent of the stipulated bond.
“They put me in isolation because they thought I was dangerous,” Alikhan says. “They wanted to see how I behaved in isolation.”
Immediately following the terrorist attacks, the United States government detained hundreds of people on immigration charges. In November, the justice department ordered interviews of 5,000 men ages 18 and 33 who have passports from countries which intelligence indicates Al Qaeda terrorist presence or activity. The questioning led to the arrest and incarceration of as many as 1,200 non-citizens, although the exact number remains uncertain. Of those arrested, 752 were charged with immigration violations, reports Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights based in the country.
By February, however, the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged that most of the persons detained in the course of the Sept. 11 investigation and charged with immigration violations were of no interest to its anti-terrorist efforts.
Human Rights Watch, as well as other human rights organizations, says the U.S. Department of Justice may have misused immigration charges to dodge legal restraints on its power to detain and interrogate people.
While an immigration law violation may justify deportation, it doesn’t in itself justify detention after arrest. The INS has the legal authority to keep a non-citizen confined pending conclusion of his or her deportation proceedings only if there is evidence of the individual’s dangerousness or risk of flight, Human Rights Watch says.
“I believed in this country until I was arrested,” Alikhan says. “I was innocent.”
In fact, during a Oct. 4 bond hearing, the INS did not present any evidence linking Alikhan to any activities that pose a threat to national security.
“They kept him (Alikhan) months after he had been cleared by the FBI,” Andresen says.
In the six months he was detained, Alikhan says he saw people from all over the world detained after the Sept. 11 investigation.
“There was this Ethiopian man who was detained for 10 months and then deported. There wasn’t a reason to keep him there that long and then send him home,” he says.
The condition of Alikhan’s release was that he must report to INS every month until his next court appearance. Alikhan, who plans to marry Andresen early next year, has an asylum hearing in March.
In the meantime, Andresen, who’s planning to file for bankruptcy, had to take a second job to pay for their bills. She says she was disappointed when the Red Cross declined to help them financially. The Humane Society, however, did help their dog, Naboo.
“I had to take her to the veterinary for an infection, and I didn’t have money to pay him. But the Humane Society did,” Andresen says. “We made it but we’re still traumatized.”
In spite of what happened to him, Alikhan says he’d like to stay in the country.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to call it home,” he says. “There are times I don’t feel I’m safe because I’m Muslim.”
Nancy Andresen is seeking financial help to raise the $900 she needs to file bankruptcy. To make a donation call FirstBank.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.