PART THREE: DEPORTEE
Greg Moses: And then you were deported? How did the deportation take place?
Saad Nabeel: Yes I was deported. They took me out of the room. Forced me to sign papers stating I had a 10-year bar from returning to the USA. “If you do not sign what we give you, you will be criminally charged and kept in jail.” I signed the papers. They stripped me in front of another officer once again to see if I had something concealed then gave me the 42-day-old clothes I wore when I entered the facility.
I was then taken by an officer out to a van that my mother was in. We flew from the Buffalo Airport to Chicago O’Hare, then to LAX–my hometown … didn’t think that was how I would visit it–then from there to Bangkok, Thailand. In Thailand my mother and I were kept in a cell with no air conditioning, which was literally crawling with cockroaches and spiders.
GM: Did your mother tell you how she had lived for 42 days at the Chautauqua County Jail? How long were you two kept in Thailand?
SN: She was devastated as expected. It’s difficult to describe the feeling honestly. It’s like walking to the gallows. She told me she was transferred three times, denied hot water, and kept behind bars. We were in Thailand for over three hours or so.
GM: Then you were finally transported to Bangladesh for a reunion with your father? What was that like?
SN: Father was still in Haskell, Texas, at the Rolling Plains Prison. He came in February. My mom’s brother–uncle to me—made special arrangements with Bangladeshi immigration because if he did not, we would have been detained for three days.
GM: Wait. So your father was still in Texas? You and your mother were deported before he was deported? And yet his status was the primary interest for immigration? Everything sounds completely mixed up to me.
SN: Yeah that’s completely correct. Trust me, I’m just as confused as you are.
GM: For the record maybe we should make a note here that this section of the interview is transpiring on the day that the White House disinvited your Dallas advocate Ralph Isenberg from a fundraiser that he paid $10,000 to attend. We live in confusing times.
SN: It was to make it so the NY Times article was not contradicted by my case.
GM: Yes, the Times was reporting that students like you were not being deported. There you were, a bona fide national contradiction. I’m sure we’ll come to Ralph in good time. Meanwhile, you and your mother were getting settled in Bangladesh. How did you find a place? What did you have with you? Who did you know there?
SN: My mom has family here. We stayed with her brother for a week or so. Then they found an apartment across the street from his. I arrived with a bag of clothes in a duffel bag. That’s all.
GM: And you hadn’t seen Bangladesh since you were two or three? You had jet lag and culture shock? What do you recall about that first week?
SN: I had no memory of this place at all. It was and still is a different planet. I don’t even know the language, so 90 percent of the signs on the street were and are alien to me. Culture shock–there’s really no way to describe the feelings I had because I knew “I can’t go home.” The first week, I started getting sick, vomiting, depression, tirades against my mother, etc.
GM: And then your father joined you? What do you recall about that reunion?
SN: It wasn’t one that I’m proud of. All my life I knew how to control my anger. But when you lose your entire life in front of your eyes, you don’t care anymore about control.
GM: But what could your father have done differently? As I understand the situation from talking to Ralph, your father was very close to getting permanent residency.
SN: I don’t know what he could have done. All I know is that there was probably a way to avoid all of this.
GM: When did you begin campaigning for your return to the USA? How did that begin?
SN: I began in March I believe. My youtube video has the date on there (March 18, 2010). It began after I recovered mentally a bit and regained some of what made me “The Saad” back home. Everyone knows the The Saad back home, and they know that when he sets his mind to something, he makes it happen. It’s egotistical but it’s what keeps me afloat.
GM: When do you first recall being called “The Saad”? Was it connected to a specific achievement?
SN: I first started calling myself The Saad in 2007 during my junior year of high school. It caught on, as much as everyone hated saying it because it added to my ego, haha. Teachers started calling me that at one point.
GM: What about “The Official Group: Bring Saad Nabeel Back Home to America”? The first signature at the petition is dated March 26, 2010. And there is a Facebook page. How did all that come into existence?
SN: I started the Facebook Page a long time ago. I was the one who created the Official Group. I made it as a central hub for people to learn about my situation. I would stay up all night spreading around my initial deportation video and group link. Very long nights. But the PR paid off eventually when the Dallas Morning News came knocking.
GM: Yes, I see an excellent, comprehensive story on April 5, 2010 by Morning News reporter Jessica Meyers. She describes you as “a Taco Bell aficionado and Taylor Swift fanatic.” Did she contact you via Facebook? The story is sympathetic to the unfairness of your status but not very optimistic about the chances of reversing it.
SN: My friends and I have been living off of Taco Bell for years now. We used to say “Taco Bell’s our second home. It’s the hand that feeds. Don’t insult it. Don’t bite the hand that feeds.”
Ah yes, I am completely and utterly in love with Taylor Swift, no arguing that. The salutatorian of my graduating class mentioned me in her speech during our graduation ceremony because of how much I loved Taylor Swift. The Dallas Morning News contacted me by Facebook first.
GM: But before the Morning News published their story, you were contacted by WFAA reporter Steve Stoler? He interviewed you via Skype for a March 22 report. And that was a few days before the online petition was posted (or the domain name created). So the Dallas media must have seen something compelling in your story.
Stoler presented supportive on-camera comments from your Liberty High School friends who called your treatment “unfair.” And you say, “I really hope that someone in the government has a heart.” Heart and fairness? What’s wrong with asking for that?
SN: Yes, Steve contacted me on Facebook as well. What’s wrong with heart and fairness? I have no idea. I still can’t accept the fact that I’m stuck in Asia right now.
GM: Speaking about heart and fairness, how did you get to know Ralph Isenberg?
SN: After the Dallas Morning News article was published, Ralph contacted Jessica Meyers who wrote my article and she contacted me.
GM: So you’ve been working with Ralph since about mid-April, 2010? What has that been like? What has Ralph been able to offer in the way of resources and strategy?
SN: Yes since mid-April. Working with him has been good. He has more information to share than any immigration attorney will ever tell you no matter how much you pay them. Actually he’s more knowledgeable than most attorneys.
GM: And he helped you try to return to college this year? What was your experience of that?
SN: Yes, he and I worked on me returning home as fast as possible to attend SMU. Dr. Charles Baker from SMU contacted the Dallas Morning News at the same time as Ralph did and so I introduced them.
GM: So the three of you worked on the SMU option? What was that experience like for you?
SN: Well it gave me hope that people hadn’t given up on me. I finally felt like I could go home.
GM: How did the process play out over time? What things were you doing to qualify for admission to SMU and secure passport permissions to return to America for college?
SN: Dr. Baker would scan up the necessary documents for SMU, email them over, have me sign them, and then send them back. I qualified for SMU thanks to my ACT score. Passport permission was not given to me. I was denied my visa because my passport had an “ineligibility” on it. The US Consulate told me to come back January 5, 2020.
GM: So you visited the US Consulate in Bangladesh? When was that? Did you have to fill out forms? Was there a meeting or an interview? Did they know that you had been accepted at SMU?
SN: I believe it was a day or two before June 30, when the Dallas Morning News pumped out a short article about it. At the consulate, I did not have to fill out any forms. It was an interview. There was a man behind a glass screen and I was on the opposite side. They knew everything. I gave them all the paperwork, letters from SMU, etc. They didn’t care. They took one look at it and rejected me based on my passport. I don’t understand how difficult it is for the government to just fix a simple mistake THEY made on my case …
GM: And what mistake was that?
SN: The ten-year bar that I was never supposed to have by law.
GM: Why were you never supposed to have a ten-year bar?
SN: A ten-year bar is only placed on someone who overstayed in the USA unlawfully for over 360 days starting at the age of 18. I was under ICE supervision since the age of 17 so I was never overstaying unlawfully. It was always with the permission of ICE. A three-year bar is only placed on someone who has overstayed unlawfully for over 180 days. The only overstaying I did was from November 24 to January 4 because I was detained. I was still 18 years old when I departed the USA.
GM: And while you were detained you never got to consult a lawyer? But before they deported you, they said you had to sign the ten-year bar? It sounds like you were forced into an impossible situation. How do you take back a signature you should never have been forced to sign?
SN: No, I was not able to consult a lawyer nor given the ability to ask for one because they told me “if you refuse to sign any papers we give you, you will be criminally charged and kept in jail.”
GM: Your case has attracted recent coverage from important international press such as the German magazine der Spiegel and the Calcutta newspaper The Telegraph. Your Official Group at Facebook in mid-August has about 5,000 friends who like it. What are the chances that The Saad will be able to high-jump over his ten-year bar?
The Saad: Everyone knows The Saad as someone who gets things done. A lot of people expect me home soon and even have things planned out for it. But what the public doesn’t know is that, even The Saad has his doubts about himself. We grow up in America knowing that “justice will prevail” so that’s what I hope happens. Someone will recognize this mistake and fix it.