Our VoiceImmigration

Taking on Racism within ICE and Making an Impact in Montana

Guest Blogger • Nov 01, 2011

By Rachel Carroll

Not many people would go public with a nasty note from a government official they had to go head-to-head with daily, especially if that official was connected to the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.  However, that’s just what Shahid Haque-Hausrath, an immigration attorney in Montana, did when he received an Islamophobic email from an ICE official, as reported by the Imagine 2050 blog.

The email, from Montana’s highest ranking ICE official, Bruce Norum, calls for a loyalty test for Muslim and Arab people and rebukes their right to protection from discrimination.  Haque-Hausrath should be commended for standing up to hate, a move that prompted the announcement that Norum has been relieved of his duties pending investigation, replaced, and that the office is taking the complaint seriously.

Haque-Hausrath was born and raised in the Midwest by Muslim parents who emigrated from Pakistan forty years ago.  Believing that the email may have been sent to him intentionally, Haque-Hausrath obtained an attorney of his own and filed civil rights complaints with the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice, and with Norum’s supervisor in Salt Lake City.

Haque-Hausrath was contacted by Steven Branch, Norum’s supervisor, who said that Norum is no longer serving as the lead detention and deportation officer for the Montana office, that he was taking swift action to make sure the credibility of his office wasn’t called into question, he would make sure Haque-Hausrath was able to continue to perform my duties without bias or retaliation, and that he understood that Norum’s actions compromised the integrity of that operation.

Representing hundreds of clients in various immigration matters since moving to Montana in 2007, Haque-Hausrath has to work with ICE officials regularly.  In addition to his regular workload, he is dedicated to providing free legal services to immigrants in Montana and nationwide.  In 2009 he was awarded the Pro Bono Award by the State Bar of Montana.  He has won asylum for a dozen refugees and helped with green card applications - including for a man trying to feed a family of seven on a Wal-Mart salary.  Just this May he celebrated a victory on behalf of a client who emigrated from Guatemala twenty years ago and has since had two children born in the U.S. with developmental disabilities and terminal illness.  His client’s removal was cancelled and he can now live in the country as a permanent resident and focus on caring for his children.

Outside of the courtroom he is fighting for social justice as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Montana Human Rights Network and board member to the Western States Center.  He has fearlessly fought for passage of the Dream Act, often in direct opposition to the state’s Democratic Senators.  He has made efforts to link the rights of immigrants and LGBT people and advocated to drop the “I word.” In an often hostile environment, he has offered valuable testimony at the Montana legislature on a series of anti-immigrant bills proposed in the state, most of which failed to pass.  He called out one legislators use of “anchor babies” saying, “The term is one of the most offensive and pejorative terms being thrown around.”

Haque-Hausrath has testified opposite Paul Nachman, active in the anti-immigrant Tanton network, and was even told by a State Representative that his citizenship in Montana is a misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment.

Since the story his exposing the ICE agent have hit the state and national press, Haque-Hausrath has been the subject of verbal attacks from the anti-immigrant and white supremacist community, including on websites like VDARE.

Haque-Hausrath knows his fight isn’t over yet.  Of Norum, he said, “I hope that the investigation is conducted fairly and that if he did indeed send the email he is terminated.”  While Haque-Hausrath’s complaints are addressed, the work for immigrant rights continues in and out of the courtroom.  Haque-Hausrath articulates, “ICE agents have the lives of immigrants, of human beings, in their hands and the decisions they make can separate families and destroy lives.  We need to make sure in the very least they are performing their duties without bias.  And along with that our efforts for fair immigration policies should continue.  Our fight for human rights goes on.”

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