BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
A Bangladeshi immigrant and father of two who had almost been deported due to mistaken paperwork—and was assisted by a Jackson Heights immigration organization—has been granted six months’ stay in his Jamaica home following a meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday.
“ICE has exercised its discretion to grant a six-month extension to allow for the processing of all the paperwork that we have filed and will continue to file to fight for Riaz Talukder to stay in the United States, where he belongs,” said Talukder’s attorney, Edward Cuccia. “This was a great day today. We’re very, very hopeful.”
Talukder, 50, came to the United States in the 1980s and qualified for the “late amnesty” program for green cards in 1990. Not long afterward, while visiting Bangladesh, Talukder received death threats from the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, a fundamentalist group, which prompted Talukder to file for asylum.
During a rally at Jackson Heights’ Smart Academia School on Friday and another on Monday at Federal Plaza, Talukder said that a lawyer had mishandled his paperwork, which resulted in the issuance of a deportation order against him in 1999. He added that he was unaware of the order until 2010, when ICE agents paid a visit to his home during Ramadan and detained him for seven months.
Talukder’s 15-year-old son, Rafi, who was 8 years old at the time, was then told that he had to act as the man of the house.
Upon Talukder’s release, he found work as a cab driver and checked in with ICE every year for the renewal of his stay. Talukder was ordered to continue doing so until his son turned 21 and could sponsor him for a green card.
Talukder received help from the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHIS)—a recently formed organization that assists people with families who are facing deportation—and found overwhelming support from his community.
“These stories of these people undergoing deportation orders are so heartbreaking,” said Lucy Herschel, a member of JHIS. “What’s worse is that these situations happen in the shadows and no one knows about them, except the people involved.”
JHIS not only organized community support and held rallies for Talukder’s cause, but also created a Facebook event page that drew 75 people to join JHIS for Talukder’s check-in with ICE.
Herschel said that she was relieved by the outcome of the check-in.
“I couldn’t imagine standing with him while he was being detained,” said Herschel. “It’s a horrifying thing. You’re trying to live your life, you have children, you work and then, in an instant, you’re destroyed. They send you back to a country you haven’t lived in [for] 37 years. It’s like a sci-fi novel.”
Ali Najmi, political director for the Alliance of South Asian American Labor (ASAAL), compared Talukder’s case to that of 57-year-old Bablu Sharif, a Bangladeshi immigrant who had drawn publicity for his deportation battle earlier this year. Sharif was deported on Oct. 11, leaving behind his 18- and 14-year-old daughters and wife.
On Oct. 10, the Queens Tribune covered a press conference held by Sharif’s young daughters, who pleaded with President Donald Trump not to deport their father. Talukder was present at that press conference.
“Mr. Talukder was nervous because he wasn’t sure if what happened to Mr. Sharif was going to happen to him,” said Najmi. “There’s all this uncertainty. Although Mr. Talukder’s victory is hopeful, there is still major uncertainty. We would like for our president, who is from Queens, to set a real policy for people like Talukder, who have children and have no criminal record.”
Talukder said that during the next six months—as he awaits the next step in the process—he will continue to work to provide for his family and care for his wife, who will undergo surgery in December that is related to throat cancer.
“I still have to pay my rent, have to feed my kids,” Talukder said. “I have to take my wife to the hospital. It’s tough for me. I have a pain in my heart.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.