PART TWO: JAIL AT THE BORDER
Greg Moses: OK, so let’s focus for a minute on your experience of the events that unfolded. How did you first become aware that the situation was dire? How were you notified, and by whom? What did they say? What went through your mind?
Saad Nabeel: I first became aware of the situation on Nov. 3 when my mom called me at my apartment telling me that my father had been taken by ICE. Things didn’t really function in my head. She told me the only choices we had were to go to Canada and try to seek refuge there or to go to Bangladesh, a third-world country. I had no idea what to say about any of this. Losing my life in a heartbeat isn’t exactly something that’s easy.
GM: Nov. 3, 2009 was a Tuesday. By that time you would have completed your mid-term assessments? How were your grades at that point?
SN: Actually, mid-term exams were about to start. I had an Electrical Engineering lab exam in the morning so I was up studying all day. My grades were good in my opinion. I put a lot of effort into my work.
GM: So what did you think about your options at that point? Canada or Bangladesh?
SN: I didn’t want either one. I wanted to stay where I was at. I wanted to stay home. But I couldn’t let my mother go alone to Canada. I had to go with her. She’s my mother.
GM: So you traveled with your mother from Dallas to the Canada border?
SN: We flew to NYC. Then my uncle drove us to the border.
GM: Was that your father’s brother? Was he someone you had known well? What was that trip like? What was going through your head? Which border station did you approach?
SN: It was my father’s brother. We used to live with him when we first moved to the USA. But we had not seen each other in years. The trip was long and tiring. The only thing in my head was, “Am I really leaving everything behind?” We approached the Buffalo border.
GM: And this was still early November, 2009? As you were approaching the border at Buffalo, what was the weather like? What time of day? Did you just try to drive through, or did you park the car and approach the border station on foot?
SN: It was towards mid-November since it took us a while to prepare clothes, food, and other items for the trip. It was very cold the entire time. Snow on the ground everywhere we went. When we got to the border, we worked with an organization that helps immigrants who are out of status and have only Canada left as a choice. We filed paperwork with them, camped out at a one-room motel for over a week. I would sleep on the floor, my mom on the bed.
GM: As November wore on, were you able to keep in touch with friends? What were you saying to them? What were they saying to you?
SN: The motel had internet, so that’s how I was able to communicate to my friends. I was telling them that I had to move to Canada. Only my closest friends knew the real deal. They helped me pack my belongings in Texas. They were all bummed out.
GM: Do you want to talk a little about the organization that was helping you with the process? Besides filing papers and waiting for an answer, was there anything else for you and your mother to do?
SN: The name of it was Vive La Casa. They have a website. All my mother and I had to do was wait for the call to go to Canada, meet with her relative (in this case her uncle), and convince the border authority that their relationship was legitimate.
GM: Her uncle?
SN: Yes. You need a relative to go into Canada. She was fortunate enough to have one. Although I use the term “fortunate” very loosely seeing as I’m not exactly in the best shape.
GM: At Vive la Casa, they would call your mother’s uncle an “anchor relative”? So if we continue to use terms very loosely you had some “hope” that your passage to Canada would be approved?
SN: I do not know the terminology, honestly. That’s probably correct though. You are also safe to assume that I had little to no hope that we would enter Canada. Why? Because I was never able to get over the shock of leaving behind everything in my life because of immigration, for the second time–the first was the move from LA.
GM: So what happened next?
SN: To make the depressing story short: we got the call that we had to go get interviewed at the border. We went there and met up with my mom’s uncle. All three of us were separated from each other into different rooms and drilled with questions. Hours upon hours later, Canadian immigration said, “we do not believe you two–my mother and her uncle–have a relationship. Sorry, but we are sending you back to US immigration.”
GM: By that time it was very late in the day? Were you able to communicate with anyone?
SN: I had been awake all night and they finally rejected us around 4pm when the office closed. After that we were sent back to US immigration and locked in a room until one in the morning or so. I was able to call one friend. That’s it.
GM: So there you were, locked into a room with your mother for eight hours, and the Canada option was closed? What kind of room was it? What were you expecting next? How was your mother holding up?
SN: It was a room with a few seats, a TV, and a glass wall looking out at the other side of the building we were housed in. A lot of people were there. There was a counter at the top of the room. Behind it is where the police officers and ICE agents were. I only expected to be taken to jail. That’s what they told us when we got there. My mother was in tears the whole time.
GM: It sounds miserable. Two week prior to that you had been in Texas studying for your electrical engineering midterms. Now you were a thousand miles away in New York, waiting to go to jail.
SN: Yeah that’s my life. While everyone goes to college, I go to jail.
GM: And that’s where they took you next? To jail?
SN: Yeah. Handcuffed mother and me and took us to separate facilities.
GM: Did you have a clear idea of why you were being jailed? I mean it seems that you were doing everything according to established procedures. Were you given any kind of hearing or any chance to get a lawyer before they handcuffed you?
SN: No I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that ICE was okay with us living in Texas. We did not get the right to a lawyer.
GM: Did you get the impression that ICE was treating you as your mother’s child, under her supervision? Or were they treating you as an adult with full rights and privileges to be informed about what was going on with options of your own?
SN: I never had to report to ICE. Only my parents had to. I thought I was still under parental supervision.
GM: Where did they take you? What did they tell you? How were you handled?
SN: They didn’t tell me much. Not much conversation other than, “we’re taking you to Batavia. Your mom is going to Chautauqua County Jail.” We were handled like luggage.
GM: So they took you to the Buffalo Federal Detention Center at Batavia, New York? That’s about a one-hour drive from the city of Buffalo. Were you cuffed the whole time? Am I correct to imagine that you were pretty numb from the shock of it all?
SN: Yeah, I was cuffed the whole time. I had not eaten or slept in 36 or so hours. It was 4:30 a.m. when I was finally stuck into the room I was to live in for the next 42 days.
GM: Do you recall the date? I see that the Batavia detention center has three diamond-shaped pods. Did you have a sense of your location within the facility?
SN: It was the day before Thanksgiving. No, I had no sense of location when I was inside.
GM: Were you alone in your cell? What was the typical day like?
SN: I was with 60 men in the room. A typical day was spent by doing nothing. Later on I made friends with a few people there and we played cards for five hours at a time to kill the day. I kept a 20-page journal of what was in my mind.
GM: There were 60 beds in one room? Do you want to share a passage from that journal?
SN: Yes, the room had two floors with 30 people on each floor. I was prisoner number 301. The journal is a madman’s journal. It’s full of random mood swings and trauma.
GM: Were you able to communicate with your mother, your friends, or an attorney?
SN: I was not able to talk to my mother or father. I was able to contact a few of my friends.
GM: What was that like? Not being able to talk to your parents? Did your friends help to keep your spirits up?
SN: It made me worry about them. I knew my father could take care of himself. But my mother had never even imagined she would experience torture like this. My friends tried their best to keep my spirits up. They told me time and again to not blame my parents for what was happening.
GM: So you were kept in jail through the holidays? Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year?