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In a deep-blue button-down shirt and pressed slacks, Mohammad Shafiq Rahman waits at a busy bus stop in Portland, Maine with his $1.50 fare in hand—more than he has earned in the past year.
On May 13, 2010, Rahman, a native of Pakistan, was wrongfully accused of aiding would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. Rahman spent the succeeding 105 days in Maine’s largest prison. Since his release, he has been mired in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic immigration process that has left him unable to work legally.
His problems began twelve days after Shahzad parked an SUV packed with explosives in the middle of Manhattan. Rahman was apprehended by the Joint Terrorism Task Force—agents from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Secret Service. His employer had failed to return certain paperwork in 2006, so his visa was technically in violation. Agents told him that if he cooperated, he might be able to return to his family—his wife Sara, an American, and her three children from a previous marriage—that night. For several hours, Rahman answered questions without a lawyer present and gave the FBI, who did not have a warrant, permission to remove anything they wanted from his apartment.
Eventually, what appears to be the real reason for his arrest came to light: Rahman knew Shahzad. They met in 2002 when Rahman was working in Connecticut. The two had friends in common, but lost touch soon after Rahman moved away and had not spoken in nearly a decade. After the interview, ICE imprisoned Rahman at the Cumberland County Jail in Maine. The FBI never contacted him again about the bombing, yet ICE opposed bail. Even so, an immigration judge eventually granted $10,000 bail, and Rahman was released on August 26, 2010.
But his ordeal continued. An IT specialist, he had been the primary breadwinner for his family. But with his work permit terminated, his income was lost. The FBI also had not returned the belongings agents stripped from his home, even after the immigration charges were dropped in December 2010. Among those items were identifying papers necessary to apply for a work permit. More than two months later, the confiscated items were finally returned—with the glaring exception of his birth certificate.
After months of calls, the FBI announced that they could not locate his birth certificate. As the family waited for a new certificate to arrive from Pakistan, the anniversary of his detention came and went. Rahman was still not able to work, and his family had to rely on relatives and friends. Sara’s parents helped pay lawyer fees, bail, and other expenses; her sister loaned the family cash. Rahman’s former boss, hoping for the return of a valued employee, lent him money to cover the work-permit fee once he was able to apply.
At the bus stop, I offer him a ride. As we round the corner to his apartment, Rahman tells me that despite his landlord’s understanding throughout the ordeal, his family recently received an eviction notice. With another loan from his wife’s parents, they were able to stay. It was tough on her parents, whose $10,000 bond had not been returned, even though bail is usually refunded within a month of a case’s conclusion.
Before July 4, Rahman’s new birth certificate arrived, and he was finally able to apply for a work permit and citizenship; within 90 days he should receive official notice.
As I drop him off, Rahman tells me that after hearing nothing from the FBI for more than a year, he had just gotten a call from an agent.
“He said it has nothing to do with me, but they want to ask me questions that may help them close some other cases,” Rahman says. “It wasn’t to say, ‘Sorry.’ It wasn’t an apology. Now they want my help.”
As he slides out of the car, he tells me, “I want to help them.”
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