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Bangladeshi national sent back home to Sunnyside

Sunnyside family Afnan Fazia (l.-r.), Mohammad Anwarul Islam, Afsa Anwar Zarah, Lipiara Begum and Afrina Anwar Farah were happy to be back together again after Islam was released from a New Jersey detention center last week. Photo by Christina Santucci
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In need of new spring clothing for her 20-month-old twin daughters, Sunnyside resident Lipiara Begum bought them shirts March 23, saying “Daddy’s Little Sunshine.” For more than a month her husband had been held in an immigrant detention center and she wanted her girls to be with him again.

Later that day, she got her wish.

After weeks of letter writing and appeals from family, civic leaders and elected officials, Bangladeshi national Mohammad Anwarul Islam was released and sent home. As he spoke about his experience, his twin daughters wearing their new shirts and sitting close by, tears came to his eyes.

“I can’t explain it, how much I am happy now,” he said.

Islam has lived in America since 1999. His wife is a permanent resident due to take her oath to become a citizen soon and they have three daughters: 5-year-old Afnan and twins Farah and Zarah. He previously worked as a food runner in a Manhattan restaurant for 16 years.

Since he had often worked to help others with immigration issues, he said he never expected to be threatened with deportation. He left his home country due to political reasons and applied for asylum in 2010, but his appeal was rejected and not followed up properly.

Islam said he had not had any warning, not even a letter, before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers came to his apartment and took him away Feb. 10 on a final order of deportation.

“I said, my lawyer don’t say nothing about this,” he said.

After being made to surrender his driver’s license and papers at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office Manhattan’s Federal Plaza, Islam was taken to the Essex County Correctional Facility and then to Delaney Hall Detention Facility, both in Newark. For days, he was unable to contact home.

“I’m crying all the time for my family, for my three daughters,” he said.

Begum, who is unemployed, enlisted as many people as she could to help her. Jackson Heights civic activist Mohammad Rashid was one of the first to assist Islam, promising to get him set free when he visited him in New Jersey.

“I told him, ‘God will send you back,’” Rashid said.

Others who helped included U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights); City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside); David Rosasco, of the Woodside Neighborhood Association; Moin Choudhury; and attorney Thomas Massucci.

Islam said he was treated well at Delaney Hall by the employees but met others — Bangladeshi, Hispanic, Indian and African — who did not have the support he did. Many told him it would take 90 days until he was released, but it took just 42.

He said he was overwhelmed when he came home late March 23 to find many friends and family members waiting for him.

“I said, ‘Thank you very much for everybody, you did a great job for me,’” Islam said.

But Islam is not out of the woods yet. He does not have his driver’s license or papers and thus cannot work. His next date at the Federal Plaza office is April 23. Yet he says he wants to help Rashid and Rosasco assist others with their immigration issues.

Begum said she and her daughters have been much happier since Islam has returned to them. While she was devastated while her husband was gone, she said she really worried about her girls.

“I’m thinking, my child needs that love,” she said. “For this, I am so, so happy.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Posted 5:04 pm, April 4, 2012
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