Saturday, October 15, 2011

Long, risky road leads to heartache for Coconut Creek immigrant family (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Long, risky road leads to heartache for Coconut Creek immigrant family
Teen split from parents after deportations

Michael Mayo
Sun Sentinel Columnist
3:14 p.m. EDT, October 15, 2011

Nearly 18 years after arriving in the United States and six weeks after federal immigration agents raided her family's Coconut Creek home, Shamsun Nahar's American dream ended with tears and heart-piercing wails.

Before dawn Friday, she peeled herself away from a final hug with her son Simon, 14, and daughter Nadia Sultana, 22, then disappeared down a corridor atFort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Nahar, 43, took a three-flight journey back to her native Bangladesh. There, she joined her husband, Mohammed Rafiuddin, and 19-year-old son, Emon, who were deported last month.

"My life is gone," Emon, formerly a student at Palm Beach State College, told me in a phone interview from Bangladesh.

The parents and two eldest children came to South Florida to visit relatives in 1994. They didn't leave after their bid for asylum was denied. Nahar said things became complicated when Simon was born — in Plantation, making him a U.S. citizen — with a heart defect.

Decades later, things unraveled quickly. The family said it began with a 6 a.m. knock on the door on Aug. 31, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seizing the parents and Emon. Nahar was released so that she could take care of Simon, but she agreed to leave the country by Friday.

ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias said the family agreed to voluntary departure in 1997 but failed to comply. He said the family's arrest and deportation was "consistent with ICE's priorities."

Perhaps the get-tough-on-illegal-immigration crowd will cheer a story like this.

But up close, watching this family get torn apart last week was simply brutal.

And it doesn't seem to jibe with the Obama administration's stated policy of "prosecutorial discretion" when it comes to deportations, with priority given to criminals and national security threats. Rafiuddin, who ran a Pompano Beach convenience store, had only a minor criminal blemish, pleading no contest to selling cigarettes to a minor in 1998.

The family breakup also doesn't seem to make much sense, with Simon (a high school freshman) separated from his parents, Emon uprooted from his education and friends, and Nadia (a green-card holder who now lives in Daytona Beach) thrust into the role of caretaker for her younger brother.

Barring a change in policy or special dispensation, the parents and Emon will not be allowed to return for 10 years.

After the anguished airport goodbye, Nadia went to the Broward County Courthouse to get custody of Simon so he could enroll at a Daytona Beach school.

My intent isn't to paint the family as victims, but to show the parents as human beings who broke the law for the most understandable of reasons — their kids. "We just wanted a better life for our family," Nahar told me.

They made a whopper of a miscalculation: That they could get away with staying here forever.

The family's abrupt departure will leave a ghost house in an upscale subdivision. Over the last decade, Rafiuddin and Nahar paid roughly $70,000 in property taxes on the home they bought for $278,000 in 2001, according to county records. Even with three kids going through public schools, that's hardly being a sponge on society.

Like many South Floridians, the family had recent financial problems. Saddled with credit card and other debt, the parents filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The family seemed to live large: The four-bedroom house was loaded with nice furniture and all the American luxuries, like a big-screen TV.

Now the house is empty and likely headed to foreclosure, the furnishings shipped to Bangladesh.

Call that gaming the system if you want. But in this case, nobody wins.

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