Ahmed Amin just wants to play football. He’s 17, and Cupertino High’s starting tight end. His older brother Hassan, 19, would rather chase girls around the De Anza College campus. But Ahmed has to miss school and practice every third Wednesday to report to the INS office an hour away. And Hassan recently spent a night in jail for immigration violations.
Last February, the boys went with their mother to an INS office in compliance with a new special registration policy. The policy requires males over 16 from a handful of countries—mostly Arab and Muslim—to report to the INS and have their paperwork scrutinized. Initially, Hassan didn’t have a problem complying. “I guess the policy was cool. I mean, a criminal wouldn’t go to an officer and say, ‘Sir, I’m a criminal—arrest me.’ We went in there voluntarily to tell them, ‘We’re living in the United States legally. You know, do whatever with us.’”
What the INS did was place the teenagers in deportation proceedings. Hassan was thrown in jail and Ahmed would have shared a cell with him except that the INS has no detention facilities for minors. The brothers went to be voluntarily fingerprinted, photographed, and registered under the program, but were told they would be deported to Pakistan.
Hassan couldn’t believe what was happening. “I had no idea that they were gonna detain me for a night—my brother had to get me out on bail for $4,000. That happened so quickly that I couldn’t even think what was going on. I was like, ‘This is just dreaming.’ I haven’t done anything. I haven’t ever been in this kind of situation. This is really happening to me. I haven’t done anything.”
Their mother, Tahira Manzour, left Pakistan for the U.S. with her sons years ago. Hassan and Ahmad grew up in San Jose and are self-described American kids.
The boys’ older brother, Imran Mughal, who is a citizen, petitioned for legal residency for their mother in 1998. The family says the lawyer told them the younger boys would be covered under their mother’s application. Years later, they found out that the brothers had to be petitioned separately to get temporary visas. Those applications were still pending at the time of the INS special registration, and the INS determined that the brothers were in the country illegally.
Ahmad says he doesn’t know anything about Pakistan or what he’ll do there if he’s deported. “I don’t even really speak the language, dude. How am I gonna survive? I haven’t seen my dad for seven years because my mom divorced him. If I live with my cousins, we’re probably going to stay for like two weeks and then me and my brother are on our own.”
Hassan is close to completing the accounting program at De Anza College and is afraid that his degree will be worthless if he’s forced to leave. “The major I’m doing over here is totally different in Pakistan.”
Between court appearances, the brothers carry on with their lives. Hassan is going to summer classes and handing out flyers for a regular dance party that he and his friends throw. Ahmed is on the football field most days of the week, vying for his starting position. His legal problems might threaten his standing on the team. “I told my coach that I have to go to court and the judge is going to decide if I can stay here or not. We don’t have any other tight end.”
If the brothers are deported, they’ll be going without their mother. She’s not affected by the policy, which applies only to males. The family was forced apart once before due to the parents’ divorce, a time Hassan remembers clearly. “We were living happily, but now the deportation policy has put us in the situation that our family is going to be separated again.”
They’ll also be leaving behind a tightly knit circle of friends and, in Hassan’s case, a legion of girlfriends. One of Hassan’s friends, Benish, nearly fought back tears when she first heard he might be deported. “I’m gonna lose a friend. I’m going to miss him if he leaves,” she says.
Between dance parties and football practice, the brothers have become their own public-relations machine, trying to garner support for their cause from teachers and the people in their community. In their rare down time, they reflect on what they’ll be losing and what it means to leave.
Ahmad, half-smiling, stares at his lap and shakes his head. “I’m going to miss school the most because I’ve been in high school for three years and this is my senior year. I love school, man. High school is fun. My friends, football team, everything.” He looks up for a second and takes a breath. ‘My biggest fear is moving back to Pakistan. I don’t wanna move back.”
Russell Morse, 22, is an associate editor for YO! Youth Outlook(www.youthoutlook.org), a publication of Pacific News Service.