A federal judge Wednesday declared the end of the government’s
four-year case against a Denver
Pakistani-American family once targeted by the FBI as terrorists.
Family members whose lives were turned upside down simply wept.
“We’ve lost everything,” longtime Colorado restaurateur Abdul
Chief U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock accepted plea deals with
federal prosecutors who dropped and reduced immigration charges
they pursued after their terrorism case fizzled against Qayyum, his
daughter Saima Saima, wife Chris Warren and nephew Irfan Kamran.
Now only Haroon Rashid, Saima’s husband, is jailed. Federal
prosecutors dropped all charges against him too. But Rashid, jailed
for more than two years, faces deportation after a misdemeanor
assault on a gang member who hassled his family.
A federal appeals court on Nov. 20 temporarily blocked Rashid’s
deportation pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
FBI agents targeted this family of naturalized U.S. citizens from
Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands based on secret evidence after
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Then-U.S. Attorney General
John Ashcroft trumpeted the case as aggressive action against
“When the attorney general of the United States declares your
family terrorists,” the result is damage “far beyond anything
this court can do,” defense attorney Ray Moore told Babcock during
one of two emotional hearings Wednesday.
The family suffered financially as their restaurant in Castle Rock
closed. Children faced teasing; mothers grew depressed.
Babcock acknowledged that the long, hard case was trying on
everyone involved. “Sometimes these things take too long. … This
is one of those cases where it just took time to get it right.”
The immigration charges FBI agents pursued, after allegations of
links to al-Qaeda evaporated in 2004, involved statements family
members made about a relative to get him a visa to enter the U.S.
In multiple plea deals made final Wednesday, Qayyum pleaded guilty
to one charge of making a false statement to a federal agent. He
received a sentence of one year’s probation.
Kamran, a father of four, pleaded guilty to a petty offense after
prosecutors dropped two felony charges. All charges against Warren
and Saima were dropped.
“The most important thing that hurt me emotionally was when they
pointed guns at my kid and he was shivering” during a raid, Kamran
said. “(Yet) I still haven’t changed my mind about this country,”
he said. “I’m still positive. There are still a lot of people with
Federal prosecutors defended their actions.
“I don’t know if there was any excess in this case. It was done
just like any other case would be,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David
Now defense attorneys say they’re trying to make sure family
members’ names aren’t on federal terrorist watch lists.
Repatriation offered to those in Denver with serious medical needs
Some illegal immigrants are wary of accepting the free trips back, fearing the care would be substandard or unreliable.
Hundreds of Mexican illegal immigrants are in Colorado not just for
work but also for free medical care they say they can’t get back
home. Now, Mexican officials have agreed to bring some home and
help them find doctors there.
But many of these illegal immigrants – including Eloina Meza, a
single mother of a disabled boy featured in the Nov. 13 Denver Post
– see little incentive to return to a country where comparable
opportunities don’t exist.
Juan Marcos Gutierrez, Mexico’s consul general in Denver, confirmed
a new deal negotiated with Dr. Patricia Gabow, chief of the Denver
Health and Hospital Authority.
Under the agreement, Denver health workers who provide kidney
dialysis to illegal immigrants are guiding those who are willing to
Mexico’s consulate in Denver.
The immigrants are told they can receive free travel home and help
finding appropriate health care – though they get no assurance it
will be free.
Mexican officials also will repatriate other illegal immigrants
with serious medical needs besides failing kidneys, Gutierrez said.
He said he didn’t know how many immigrants might qualify.
“I won’t repatriate someone with the flu or a cold,” he said.
“We are talking chronic diseases, difficult medical conditions.”
The goal, Gutierrez said, is to “give an option to our nationals.
But it is not my duty … to relieve (U.S.) hospital budgets.”
He pointed out that illegal immigrants often pay taxes that support
public health care here.
Denver health officials are prohibited by law from checking the
legal status of immigrants they serve. But records show about 1,500
emergency-room patients a year are unable to give a U.S. Social
Security number for billing purposes.
Many still seek treatment here despite a new state law that bars
hospitals from giving publicly funded, nonemergency health care to
illegal immigrants. Those immigrants now are treated as uninsured,
Gabow said several patients already have been sent to the
consulate. Six were in the process of heading home to continue
dialysis treatment in Mexico, according to Mexican officials.
Yet many illegal immigrants are reluctant to rely on Mexico’s
government, saying that Mexico’s poverty, inequality and widespread
lack of access to medical care drove many of them north in the
“(The government’s offer) is nice. I like the idea. But here, I
trust the doctors more. I trust everyone here more,” said a 32-
year-old illegal-immigrant aircraft-maintenance worker who spoke on
condition of anonymity, fearing authorities would use his name to
The worker’s 7-year-old son was born with major deformities that
blocked his breathing and required more than a dozen surgeries.
“I’d like to live in Mexico. It’s my country,” the man said. But
his son “was born here, and he gets all the medical support.”
His son now thrives at a Colorado Springs-area school. He and his
father recently visited doctors in Leon, Mexico, to investigate
possibilities for treatment.
The father said the Mexican doctor told them, “I recommend you
finish all the medical stuff in the United States. Your doctors
there know him. He’s got pretty serious problems with his jaw that
will require plastic surgery.”
In another case, a Denver-area family that includes several illegal
immigrants – and a U.S.- born 14-year-old boy with cerebral palsy
and heart trouble – initially refused to accept public benefits out
of pride. But then they saw huge bills from Denver Health for brain
scans the boy needed after seizures.
Now they rely on Medicaid to pay these bills, though the father
holds a job that has allowed them to afford a home. There’s no way
the family would return to Mexico, said Gisela, 21, the boy’s
“He’s not going to get any of the medical services he needs
there,” she said, because he lacks a Mexican birth certificate.
“And even if he was, they would not be as good as they are
The medical agreement was in the works before Eloina Meza came
forward with her story in The Post, but Mexican officials revealed
their new policy last week after learning of the plight of Meza and
her son Edgar, a U.S. citizen who suffers from Down syndrome and
congenital heart defects.
Illegally in the country for 12 years, Meza recently tried to
surrender to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at
their offices in an effort to have a judge review her case and
allow her to stay legally in Denver. The agents refused.
Charged with hunting for criminal immigrants and terrorists, they
were reluctant to divert energy to process Meza, ICE officials
said, defending a policy against accepting “walk-ins” who seek
permission to stay.
Under U.S. law, immigrants here illegally for more than 10 years
who can prove a pressing humanitarian need can be allowed to stay
in the country legally if a judge reviews their case.
Meza has stayed here to keep Edgar alive. He had a series of
surgeries, and doctors say he needs regular checkups and drugs to
survive and that returning to Mexico could threaten his life.
“We’re very interested in helping this lady,” said Jorge
Gonzalez, chief of protection services at the consulate. “If she
doesn’t have the possibility to stay, I will try to arrange medical
care in Mexico.”
Meza has agreed to meet with Mexican officials. But she wants her
lawyer, Francesca Ramos, to meet with them first. She’s resolved
that, no matter what, the fragile little boy she loves must
“Why all of a sudden does the Mexican consulate take an interest
in a case like this?” she asked. “Why didn’t they offer help to
Mexicans that are here in this situation before? I do not
understand the motive behind this meeting and do not have much
Case exposes odd twist: Feds usually reject those who surrender
Federal agents who hunt for illegal immigrants have a policy
against arresting those who voluntarily turn themselves in – as
Eloina Meza discovered recently in Denver.
After hiding for 12 years, Meza mustered her courage and approached
immigration agents at their offices – “I saw the security, the
police, the cameras up around the room” – and tried to surrender.
Her son, Edgar, 8, a U.S. citizen who suffers from Down syndrome
and heart trouble, needs her constantly. A single mother, Meza had
grown increasingly worried that, if immigration agents were to
catch her, she and Edgar could be separated.
Instead, she wanted to turn herself in and have a judge review her
case so that she might stay legally in Denver with her son.
But immigration officials on Sept. 14 turned Meza and Edgar away.
“I was saying, ‘I am here illegally.’ They wouldn’t take me in,”
she said. “I thought they’d at least ask some questions.”
Meza, 44, crossed the border from Mexico in 1994. She has worked
several jobs around Denver, from $4.50-an-hour packaging in a
warehouse to a stint with the U.S. Postal Service.
Her situation exposes an odd dimension to the nation’s newly
beefed-up immigration enforcement system: The same agents who labor
to find illegal immigrants on the streets and in jails – they
caught and deported 100,100 noncriminal immigrants such as Meza
last year – generally won’t accept those who surrender asking for
“Walk-ins” taken in past
The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement division “must use its limited resources and
prioritize its mission to target aliens that are the greatest
threat to the community – criminal aliens and terrorists,” ICE
spokesman Carl Rusnok said.
Yet ICE agents around the country have some discretion, according
to a 2005 ICE legal memo. Denver agents in the past did accept
“walk-ins” but have discontinued that practice.
A Sept. 14 letter from Meza’s attorney, Francesca Ramos, asks Jeff
Copp, ICE’s Denver district special agent in charge, for “your
assistance in having Ms. Meza placed in removal proceedings without
The goal, Ramos wrote, “is to seek cancellation of removal to
ensure that she will not be separated from her very ill son.”
ICE officials gave no response. The Postal Service confirmed her
letter was delivered Sept. 15.
Immigrant-rights advocates call the ICE turn-away policy inhumane.
“You ought to be able to turn yourself in,” said Robert Deasy,
spokesman for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in
Meza probably “is entitled” to stay in the country with her son
under immigration-law provisions that grant legal status to people
in the country illegally for more than 10 years who also can prove
an exceptional humanitarian need, Deasy said, “but the enforcement
priorities of the Department of Homeland Security do not appear to
include enforcement activities that will benefit a deserving
U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo – a leading immigration hard-liner in
Congress, which recently pushed through millions of dollars to
toughen enforcement – also is incensed.
“Is a policeman going to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t take you in
right now because I’ve got to direct traffic?”‘ asked Tancredo, a
“(ICE agents) have a responsibility to enforce the law,” he said.
“… And they can’t use the old excuse about resources. They’ve
gotten a lot more. What are they using that for? What do they need
resources for if that person walked in? They don’t have to search
Now Meza and Ramos say they’re thinking about voluntarily
approaching ICE agents again.
“I feel more pressure, more fear,” Meza said.
She lives in an area where illegal immigrants struggle to get by
juggling jobs and looking out for one another to avoid police and
Meza said she’s always turning her head, checking when she leaves
her shared rental house. She drags Edgar out with her late at night
to a grocery store, thinking it’s the only safe time to get food.
For years, she has been working up the nerve to turn herself in,
praying for guidance at a church where parishioners urged her to
visit a lawyer.
Lost her job after 9/11
Edgar was born May 22, 1998, at an Aurora hospital, where doctors
warned that “he is very fragile.” In addition to Down syndrome,
he has a congenital heart problem that required three open-heart
surgeries to put in a prosthetic mitral valve and a pacemaker,
according to medical records.
“He requires close supervision. His pacemaker needs to be checked
monthly, and he needs to be monitored carefully due to the
anticoagulants,” said a letter from Dr. Robert Wolfe at the
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. “Moving away from
this center is potentially life-threatening for Edgar.”
Another factor compelling Meza to beg for legal residency: She
hasn’t been able to work since 2001. After her stint with the
Postal Service, she settled into a job at Pour la France cafe at
Denver International Airport. But after the 9/11 attacks, airport
supervisors checked workers’ Social Security numbers. She was found
Now, she relies on friends to get by. Medicaid pays Edgar’s medical
“In Mexico, if you go to the hospital and don’t have money, they
won’t help you,” she said.
She has dreamed of returning one day to her home in southern
Mexico. But today, Edgar’s needs come first.
She helps him slide in the park after school and even plays soccer
with him, she said. His smile ignites her whole world.
“He must always be with me,” she said.