Noora Ferdoucy just wants her dad to come home.
“My family cannot move forward without my father,” she said at a rally held at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center on Monday. “He provided for us, took care of us and most importantly, he is my dad. He was there for me every day and I love him.”
But recently, her father, Wadud Mohammed, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for living in the country illegally.
The 54-year-old business owner moved to the United States from Bangladesh in 1994 when he received an order of exclusion.
Despite being told to leave, Mohammed remained in the country, got married to Ferdoucy Akhter — a U.S. citizen — started a business and a family in Elmhurst.
In January, when he attempted to come clean and apply for a green card, Mohammed was arrested by ICE and taken to New Jersey where he will stay until he is deported or a judge can find reason for his release.
“We need to take a humanitarian approach,” Naresh Gehi, the family’s attorney, said. “He has no criminal background, he paid taxes and his family are all citizens. He made a mistake and came clean but we need to realize that we’re destroying an American family, not just an immigrant.”
The main issue is with Mohammed’s marital status to Akhter.
According to Gehi, old paperwork revealed Mohammed may still be married to another woman in Bangladesh.
“This was never a marriage,” he said. “There was a mistake in the filing and now because of that, this family’s life has been ruined.”
There are no written records of the first marriage and it produced no children.
Because of this technicality, ICE is looking to deport Mohammed.
According to Gehi, on June 10, federal authorities unsuccessfully tried to force Mohammed onto a plane to Bangladesh. The pilot refused to fly Mohammed against his will, in accordance with the Ethical Standards of International Pilots.
But according to Mohammed, it gets worse.
Gehi received a letter from his client that said he was being treated badly by immigration officers.
The attorney alleges his client told him an officer held a gun to his head on the plane and said that if he was not deported, he would kill him.
It could not be confirmed if this threat was in fact made.
“I am facing lot of torture from immigration officer,” the letter reads. “One immigration [officer] tell me they throw me in the second floor. I will be dead. I married American citizen and I have daughter. I miss them very much.”
The handwriting is in all caps, written on blank white paper.
In addition, Mohammed has ongoing health issues that are progressively getting worse.
A doctor with ICE told Mohammed he needs surgery for an enlarged hernia but Gehi said the agency has yet to schedule a time for the procedure to be done.
“He is undocumented, yes but he is still a human being,” Gehi said. “It is very easy to hold someone on a technicality but what has happened to our nation of laws?”
ICE denied allegations of physical violence and said Mohammed was receiving care for his hernia.
“Mr. Mohammed, a Bangladeshi national, attempted to enter the United States on a fraudulent passport at JFK airport on Jan. 5, 1994,” a spokesman said in a written statement. “He was placed into removal proceedings and was ordered removed on July 20, 1994. He has exhausted all of his legal options in attempts to remain in the country. He came into ICE custody on Jan. 16, 2014, where he will remain until his removal from the country.”
Gehi and his team have been working to get elected officials, especially members of Congress, to hear Mohammed’s story. His hope is if enough people hear what happened, his client will be more likely to be released and reunited with his family.
“If not, he will be deported and in my professional opinion, he will not be coming back,” Gehi said. “His family will never be able to see him at home again.”
The lawyer said Sen. Kirsten Gillabrand (D-NY) has been particularly helpful throughout the process. Reps. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing) have also been talking with the family and Gehi.
While the dozens of people who turned out in support of Mohammed held signs of hope that said things such as “I love the U.S.A.” and “I love my country,” Gehi said he is not sure how optimistic he feels that his client will come home.
“Congress does not care about this,” he said. “Why do we always talk about undocumented immigrants but we don’t talk about the hardship of this American family, because that is what they are, an American family. No one will answer that.”
Gehi is asking the public to take to social media and to reach out to their elected officials to persuade them to get ICE to sign a waiver to release Mohammed.
“This family cannot survive without him,” he said. “The breadwinner of this family was taken away, now what are they supposed to do?”
Meanwhile, Noora said she is interested in attending Harvard Law School and hopes to eventually become an immigration lawyer to help people who get caught up in the system like her dad.
“We cannot wait for that day to come for her,” Gehi said.
Ironically, while Mohammed is detained in New Jersey, his green card application is still pending.
If he is granted a green card while in jail or after being deported, it is unclear what will happen to him.
“I’d like to think he’d be coming home in that situation but these are the same officers who called him a terrorist,” Gehi said. “I don’t know what they will do. They have a lot of discretion.”