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The Anti-Immigrant Right and a Virtual Deportation Game

The attacks from the Right began almost immediately with one particularly vituperative piece in Info Wars that took great exception to an "Indian" woman like myself having the gall to make a videogame about immigration. Then the Minutemen sent out a press advisory signaling their availability to speak against ICED – with a whole host of made-up information about the game.ImageOn that fateful day – Sept. 11, 2001 – I found myself trapped at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Nigeria. I was returning to New York from the Durban World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and my plane had stopped to refuel in Lagos. The plane took off earlier than scheduled with my luggage, leaving behind two of my friends and myself. While we were running around the airport trying to find another flight back to JFK, someone yelled out that NYC was under attack. The three of us watched in horror as we saw the planes strike the Twin Towers.

Tragically, 9/11 not only marked the death of three of my friends and almost 3,000 others, it also saw the unraveling of some of the most fundamental due process protections in the United States. And now – almost seven years later – fundamental human rights continue to be eviscerated for more and more communities around the country, particularly for immigrants.

Last month, Breakthrough, a non-profit that I currently head, released a videogame called ICED – I Can End Deportation. The name is a play on Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The goal of ICED is to create awareness about the lack of due process and human rights in current detention and deportation policies. ICED has created a huge buzz, especially in the blogosphere, and approximately 70,000 individuals have downloaded the game so far.

The attacks from the Right began almost immediately with one particularly vituperative piece in Info Wars that took great exception to an "Indian" woman like myself having the gall to make a videogame about immigration. Then the Minutemen sent out a press advisory signaling their availability to speak against ICED – with a whole host of made-up information about the game. But the icing on the cake was how many media outlets, including several ABC affiliates and CNN, simply took the Minutemen statements and structured their entire story around ICED based on lies and distortions, without bothering to look at the press materials from Breakthrough or bothering to check with us.

While I always expected to be attacked by the Right, and am not too surprised by the distortion of information by the mainstream media, I must confess that I am more frustrated about and deeply saddened by the lack of support for due process for immigrants from the rest of the nation.

While I was at Law School at New York University, I had the privilege of studying constitutional law under one of the greatest civil rights minds, Norman Dorsen – a former President of the ACLU. Obviously, the Bill of Rights featured prominently and despite the historical legacy of slavery and discrimination against women, poor communities, and many others. I developed a profound respect for the fundamental principles of due process that the U.S. legal system was built upon. And so, I am now deeply disturbed by the impunity with which our government has systematically stripped even legal permanent residents of due process rights and basic protections.
If a legal immigrant commits a crime – even as minor as getting in a fistfight – the judge is required to automatically deport him and cannot consider the circumstances of the case. There are NO exceptions for a list of crimes called "aggravated felonies", though the list encompasses a range of non-violent crimes that are not felonies for U.S. citizens. What's worse is that detention and deportation laws can be applied retroactively, which means that people are being punished for the same crime twice.

These laws have resulted in some tragic outcomes like the case of Sandra Kenley, a 52-year-old legal permanent resident of 30 years, who was placed in detention in 2005 upon returning from vacation for two prior minor drug convictions dating from 1984 and 2002. She died in custody seven weeks later because of lack of access to medical care. Some 62 people held on immigration charges have died in detention in the last three years.

Not only is there a lack of support for respecting due process and human rights in detention and deportation policies, but to add insult to injury, any discussion of these issues is immediately framed in an anti-illegal immigrant, anti-amnesty framework. The Right has very effectively created a poisonous and vitriolic public frame around illegal immigrants – so much so that not only have undocumented people been completely stripped of their humanity or any rights, but the very term "immigrant" has become a dirty word.

The U.S. already has 2.3 million people behind bars. Now that immigrants have become synonymous with criminals, what's a mere 280,000 more in detention at a cost of $1.2 billion? Immigrants in detention include families (both legal and undocumented), asylum seekers, and torture survivors – all incarcerated in "non-criminal" custody because violation of immigration laws is not a crime but a civil violation.

I'm glad that ICED has created a dialogue even with all the attacks and hate mail we've been receiving. I'm hoping that millions will play ICED and become a part of the larger dialogue around the need to create fair immigration policies for legal and undocumented immigrants.

Because, let's remember, when we let the government deny due process and human rights for one group of people, we put all of our freedoms at risk.

The author is the Executive Director of Breakthrough, an international human rights organization that uses media, education, and pop culture to promote values of dignity, equality and justice.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Islamic Insights occasionally includes outside editorials and opinion pieces. The purpose of these is to generate discussion and an exchange of ideas and does not necessarily imply our endorsement of the opinions expressed within the article.

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  • Zahara

    What a fantastic idea: a video game that requires intelligence, teaches social justice concepts, and isn’t just about blowing things up!

  • Zombeer

    Reminds me of the way Afghans are being treated in Iran. Whenever I bring up the racist oppression faced by refugees in Iran, I’m labeled as anti-Shia…but it’s fine to talk about the racist xenophobia of Americans towards immigrants.

  • Abdullah

    You are right Zombeer. Generally speaking Afghans are treated really badly in Iran. They are not allowed to work or go to school. And if they are allowed to work, they can only take menial jobs such as sanitation. The funny thing is that in the past both Afghans and Iranians were one nation and now that the Imperial powers divided them up, one side believes it is better than the other side. It is like two brothers being separated and being rejoined under different conditions, then one brother mistreating the other. Even if your parents are Afghan and you are born in Iran, they will not give you papers or allow you to work or go to school. But what is funny is that those Afghans who are famous will be accepted as Iranis. For Example, Rumi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) were born in Balkh, which is a part of Afghanistan, but Iranians, who mistreat and do not accept Afghans claim these two for themselves because of their fame. Or Akhund Khurasani who was from Herat and was born in Mashhad is called Iranian in Iran, while thousands of others who are from Herat and other provinces in Afghanistan and were born in Mashhad or other cities in Iran are not even allowed to attend school or work. They are regularly told to go back to Afghanistan. Like the blacks of America use to be told to go back to Africa.

    Sayyid Jamilud Deen Afghani, who himself used to say he is Afghani and is knows as Afghani throughout the world is called Asadabadi in Iran and Iranians say he is Irani. This is indeed a strange thing and powerful grip of Satan that has taken a hold of them

    Racism is a big problem in Iran. Pakistanis and Indians are also mistreated there, however there aren’t as many of them as Afghans in Iran, so probably not as obvious. But unfortunately racism is a major problem throughout the world, even among Muslims who are all brothers and sisters. However, the prejudice of Iranis against Afghans is very strange because they are essentially one people and speak the same language, have the same culture and traditions.

    Actually, besides the econmic sanctions, racism is one the major reasons why Iran is held back and still a third world country. They are not open to people. To Iran its more important who you are rather than what you have to offer, unlike America which is the most advanced country in the world and one of the major reasons for it is that generally it does not matter who you are but what you bring to the table. They take the good from all peoples and add it to the collective, while Iran will not take the good unless you are Irani (or as some of them like to say Persian).

    Having said that, there are also many good Iranians, unfortunately they are a minority. And I am shia so Zombeer, I do not think you are anti-shia for saying what is the reality of the situation in Iran. Shias around the world falsely believe that Iran is the perfect Shia place, but they don’t realize that many Iranians are shia only by name and not by action. The country is overwhelmed with racism and fraud among the general public and some government officials.

    Anyways, I pray that Allah guides them and guides all of us Muslims towards the true ideals of Islam and justice for all.