Our vote is the best guarantee of our civil rights
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
NEWARK, CA: The American Muslim Alliance-Bay Area held its monthly forum on August 3, 2002 at the Chandni Restaurant under the title: “Our vote is the best guarantee of our civil rights.” Mr. Saad Ahmad, an Immigration and Civil Rights Lawyer with the Ellahie Law Firm, San Jose, briefed the audience on gaining citizenship while Ms. Julie Winter of the League of Women Voters spoke about the role of her organization in encouraging the people to participate in the political process.
Ms. Samina Faheem, National Coordinator of AMA, organized the event attended by the Bay area activists.
Ms. Julie Winter of the League of Women Voters said that registration as a voter in the first thing to be part of the process. However, she added that right to vote is not enough but going to polling station to vote is important.
She said that the League does not support any candidate but issues as it is involved in studying the issues. “That is why we are respected when we talk about any issue because we know the issue. We emphasize on local issues and provide civic education.”
Ms. Winter said the League is always interested in informing people and getting to vote.
She said that for the November election, the League plans to publish a candidate information booklet. “Since campaigns are very expansive, it has become too costly for many potential candidates to run for office. The objective of the booklet is to allow each candidate to communicate information about their qualifications, beliefs and priorities to the public through a cooperative mailer, Ms. Winter concluded. (Julie Winter of the League of Women Voters End)
Dr. Agha Saeed said that our vote is best guarantee for our civil rights. He said there are three situations: 1. You are not a US citizen. 2. You are citizen but not registered as voter. 3. You are registered voter as an independent. However, for an active citizenship, you should be with the Democratic or Republican party.
He urged the Muslim American community to vote in elections. “We must first go to primary election and get ourselves involved.” Primary elections were introduced in 1906 to elect the party candidate for the general election. At one time there were primaries for whites and blacks separately.
Dr. Agha Saeed pointed out that when you are not member of the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian party, you are out of the primary process and become passive. However, in general election you can vote for any party despite your affiliation to a certain party. He reminded the audience that 15 days before the election you can register as voter and also can change your affiliation. “You have to be a voting delegate or member of the party to affect the party policy. Muslims are one the communities who are outside the delegate system.” AMA wants you to be active citizen, he said.
The AMA chairman was of the view that ballot education is very important because people don’t understand the complicate ballot. He added that the AMA educates people about the ballot.
Mr. Saad Ahmad, said that the permanent residents who are applying for citizenship should take legal advice because under an immigration law passed in 1996 and applied since 1997, there are certain crimes for which a permanent resident can be deported even if he is living here for the last 20 or so years. “If you apply for citizenship and FBI finds a felony. You can be deported. In certain states even reckless driving is a deportable offense.” (Saad Ahmad Immigration and Civil Rights Lawyer)
Mr. Ahmad pointed to the case of a Pakistani who is living in New York since 1965. “A friend from Pakistan visited him and overstayed his visa. Now he is under deportation proceedings because he harbored a man who violated the law.”
He said Patriot Act has given too much discretionary powers to the law enforcing authorities. “We are protesting for that. If a person is not a citizen and suspected of terrorism, he will be tried in a military tribunal.”
Before 1996, even if the students (there are 250,000 foreign students in US) did not take full courses (12 credit hours) their visa violation was ignored.
Mr. Saad Ahmad said that HB1 visa is not a work permit. If you are laid off, your status becomes illegal. If you are laid off, you should change your status to something else, you should contact a lawyer.
Mr. Ahmad said people should not apply for citizenship before consulting a lawyer. However, he added that you must apply for citizenship. Fee for naturalization is $ 310. He said that unless we become citizens and vote our voice will not be effective.