Arrests of Pakistanis in US criticised

Published November 20, 2006

NEW YORK, Nov 19: Pakistani community and religious leaders based in Brooklyn (New York) on Saturday protested arrests of scores of Pakistanis in immigration raids since last Wednesday claiming that many were held without charges, as lawyers scrambled to get them released.

Some 33 Pakistanis were rounded in seven states this week on charges of entering the United States by posing as religious workers, part of a crackdown on a visa programme considered to be rife with fraud. But one report, which could not be corroborated, put the figure at 200.

However, US Immigration and Customs authorities were quoted as saying that none of those arrested appear to have ties to any terrorist group.

The immigration authorities say that those arrested had visas that permitted them to work as religious scholars or leaders. But federal authorities said that most had no theological training and that many were driving trucks, pumping gas or not working at all.

The arrests, which resulted from an ongoing investigation, came more than a year after a Department of Homeland Security review of the religious worker visa programme found widespread fraud.

According to an August 2005 report, nearly a third of the 220 religious worker visa petitions surveyed were deemed to be falsified.

A report in New York Newsday said that the immigrants were arrested on administrative immigration violations that could result in deportation. Some could face additional criminal immigration charges quoting Dean Boyd a spokesman for US Customs and Immigration said that. none of those arrested appears to have ties to terrorism.

The US Immigration authorities told reporters that those arrested on Wednesday, two imams from Boston (Massachusetts), were the only true religious workers, but they had used sham identity documents to get their visas. The rest were employed in other fields. All had paid "substantial cash fees" to their sponsors, who filed the bogus applications, authorities said.

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