Basu: Betrayals leave Iowa man jailed and in legal limbo
Written by Rekha Basu
A sense of betrayal has hung over the Islamic Center of Des Moines since members learned the man they knew as Rafik Alvi was there neither to worship nor even Muslim. He was Arvinder Singh, and by his subsequent confession, was there to infiltrate them.
Singh disclosed in this column Aug. 8 that he had spied on local Muslims for the FBI, which then betrayed him. “They woke up a little bit in every mosque and they had a little chat about it,” said Hamed Baig, president of the Islamic Center.
The Muslims say the FBI had no reason to infiltrate the mosque because no one there is a terrorist. The one arrest of a member that someone can recall during the period was for working without a permit.
“If there is anybody with terrorist activity, we will report them ourselves,” said member Basim Bakri, a Jordanian-born U.S. citizen. “Instead they go and black label all the Muslims as terrorists.”
Baig said he would cooperate with officials if contacted: “I don’t just look at myself as a Muslim. I’m an American. I live here and I’m equally responsible for the people around me.”
He is also offended by the insensitivity to Muslim customs such as avoiding alcohol. Singh drank and served alcohol at a restaurant he operated. “At least send a Muslim who cannot destroy our mosque with his reputation,” said Bakri.
If Muslims are feeling betrayed, so is Singh, who has been in the Hardin County Jail for 14 months, with no end in sight. An immigration judge last February ordered him deported to India, where he has family, but the Indian government has yet to verify his citizenship and give him travel clearance.
Singh says he was trying to get a felony expunged from his record and become a U.S. citizen, when he agreed to be a paid informant in search of radical Muslims plotting terrorism. He said he didn’t know what resulted from his reports to the FBI from various mosques, but that they led to some arrests. But clearly no Muslim terrorism plot in Des Moines was unearthed.
The FBI doesn’t acknowledge the identity of informants and won’t confirm that Singh was on its payroll. It also says it makes no promises of citizenship. Singh got nothing in writing, but he and his wife insist the FBI agents who recruited him in 2003 promised to help him obtain citizenship and make the felony go away.
The offense to which he had pleaded guilty in 2001 was selling a large quantity of cough medicine containing ephedrine to an undercover agent at a gas station convenience store where he had worked for three weeks. He says he had no idea ephedrine was used to make illegal drugs. But he pleaded guilty on his lawyer’s advice, paid a fine, did community service and got a deferred judgment.
Then, he claims, after helping the FBI for seven years and getting no help with citizenship, he applied for it himself and immigration agents nabbed him on the original offense. A judge ordered him deported.
There could be a trifecta of injustices here if a 2006 American Civil Liberties Union claim in a Georgia case has bearing on Singh’s arrest.
The ACLU investigated a sting known as “Operation Meth Merchant” by local and state police and federal drug agents in Georgia. It claimed they unlawfully targeted South Asians, who were later convicted and deported for selling medicines containing meth-making substances. Though 23 of the 24 stores targeted were owned by South Asians, more than 80 percent of stores in the area were not. The ACLU alleged that agents had no evidence of wrongdoing by the South Asian stores but had numerous tips implicating at least 16 white-owned stores that they failed to act on, even warning one about the investigation.
The charges relied on the assumption that sales clerks understood when undercover agents talked of plans to “cook,” that they meant making meth. But many clerks spoke limited English and didn’t understand, the ACLU said. Singh’s wife, Alice, says that’s what happened to him. “When they cooked, they cooked large amounts of food because there were so many people eating,” she said. “He didn’t know a word about cooking dope. He told the judge.”
Legally, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has 180 days after a judge’s final deportation ruling, including appeals, to remove someone slated for detention. That limit is now past for Singh, but ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said: “As long as the likelihood of our being able to carry out his removal still exists, he will remain in custody.”
Neudauer said ICE has reviewed Singh’s case and determined “it is likely he is from India,” and therefore will get travel documents. Indian government officials haven’t returned my calls and emails asking why they haven’t issued travel documents, or whether they plan to.
“ICE is not able to send me back so they are putting excuses after excuses,” Singh recently wrote me from the jail. “(As a) result of that I am sitting here in ICE custody for no reason.”
The government needs to end this limbo and set a date by which it will release him if clearance isn’t granted.
It was disclosed this week that the New York Police Department has been broadly monitoring the activities of Muslim college students, including sending an undercover agent on a canoeing trip with them and trawling their websites, though there were no accusations of wrongdoing. Student groups have expressed outrage.
Singh doesn’t get much sympathy from Des Moines Muslims. But if everything alleged is true, then they and he were all the victims of racial profiling — and both were betrayed by the U.S. government.
Original post: Basu: Betrayals leave Iowa man jailed and in legal limbo