The Crescent Report

December 18, 2007

Kadir Gunduz, a Pittsburgher in Peril

Filed under: Humanitarian, Immigration — Tags: — Imam Mahdi Bray @ 11:04 pm

A Nice Op-Ed from Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Please keep Imam Gunduz and his family in your prayers

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been busy rounding up the usual suspects.

Last week, Kadir Gunduz of Beechview was arrested for being in technical violation of a visa he was issued in 1988. He’ll face an immigration judge tomorrow in York, Pa. The life he’s lived for 19 years is at stake.

Kadir Gunduz and his wife, Saime, could be deported if the judge is a law-and-order type with little patience for fairness or extenuating circumstances in a xenophobic era.

The 48-year-old imam of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh really should have seen it coming. Nineteen years after immigrating from Turkey, a country where minarets outnumber church steeples by an ungodly number, Kadir Gunduz has only managed a foreigner’s version of American respectability.

As part of an elaborate scheme to be perceived as a regular guy in a nation of regular guys, Kadir Gunduz enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh on a student visa. Because his American-born son had a host of medical problems, Kadir Gunduz was granted a hardship waiver that allowed him to stay when his visa expired in 1990.

Kadir and Saime provided a good life for their handicapped son and two other children born later that decade. The Gunduzs were never a burden on the country they hoped would one day embrace them as citizens.

Eventually, Kadir Gunduz became an imam at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, located in Oakland. This was very much in keeping with his family’s relentless march toward middle-class respectability.

Seven years ago, the Islamic Center filed a request to have Imam Gunduz recognized as a religious worker.

In 2002, Imam Gunduz’s change in status was approved — by the same agency that arrested him last week.

In his overflowing enthusiasm for the American Dream, Imam Gunduz applied for a green card that would have granted him and Saime permanent residency. Once granted, they would no longer have to fear being separated from their kids by bureaucratic fiat.

Unfortunately, America grew suspicious of foreigners after Sept. 11, 2001. A new mood was afoot in the land.

Imam Gunduz’s green card application, which would have been routine before Islam became shorthand for “terrorism,” languished in green card hell while his authorization to work in this country expired.

Imam Gunduz initiated a series of legal moves, but nothing came of them. This year, his status as a religious worker was revoked after being temporarily reinstated and his green card application denied.

Imam Gunduz is now in the custody of York County Prison, where he continues to pray five times a day.

Tomorrow, Imam Gunduz will find out if God is listening to his prayers. He’ll know soon enough if he and Saime will have to make the painful decision to uproot their children from the only country they have ever known.

Tomorrow, wheelchair-bound Tarek, 16, and his siblings, 13 and 10, will learn if they will be forced to leave their friends and community behind. Will they have to lay down their identities as Americans to remain an intact family?

For 16 days, Imam Gunduz has already experienced the implacable face of American justice.

Despite having never committed a crime or engaged in behavior unbecoming of a Muslim clergyman, he has been subject to the indignities of prison life.

Assuming Imam Gunduz is the same person who came to Pittsburgh 19 years ago, what has changed so drastically to make him a threat to the country he wants desperately to adopt him?

The answer is painfully evident — Sept. 11, 2001, has changed everything. Muslims, regardless of where they come from or where they were born are assumed to be carriers of a religious contagion that could destroy America.

What is happening in York is all the more galling because no one has levelled charges of sedition or subversive activity against Imam Gunduz. Still, the clergyman and his wife could be deported on the basis of the most banal of technicalities.

Too bad they didn’t have enough foresight to come to this country as Cuban refugees. Too bad he faces Mecca when he prays instead of bending his knee to the cross.

It is such an outrageous situation that a group of clergy — Jews, Catholics and Protestants — have written letters of support for Imam Gunduz.

Tomorrow, Imam Gunduz will learn whether being a Turkish-born Muslim puts him beyond the reach of American empathy and fair play

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