A disabled former Washington National Guard soldier got to go home to Lacey after his immigration hearing ended Wednesday, but he still could be deported to his native Pakistan later this year.
Muhammad Zahid Chaudhry, 37, brought about 30 supporters from the Olympia area with him for his hearing before an immigration judge on charges that he lied on visa documents. He sat in his wheelchair, wore his National Guard dress uniform and appealed to stay in the U.S. based on his service in the military.
“I have served with honor and dignity,” Chaudhry, who was discharged a year ago for medical reasons, said before his hearing began.
Ann Chaudhry joined her husband in court Wednesday and insisted she’d accompany him to Pakistan if he’s ordered to leave the country.
“I didn’t get married to live apart,” she said. “We’re in danger because there are people (in Pakistan) who are upset with the American military.”
His friends from South Sound echoed his wife’s fears about Pakistan while carrying signs outside an immigration building in downtown Seattle.
“If he was good enough to serve, why isn’t he good enough to stay?” asked supporter Tera Lamb of Olympia.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants Chaudhry removed from the country because of two incidents he allegedly misrepresented to government officials after he came to America in September 2000.
One incident stems from a criminal conviction that took place in Australia in 1996, when Chaudhry was a taxi driver. An Australian citizen didn’t have money for his fare and left his passport as a pledge to return with cash. Chaudhry allegedly used it to try to open a bank account and obtain medical benefits, according to court records. Australian police also determined that Chaudhry had used a credit card that wasn’t his.
Chaudhry did not acknowledge that conviction in a 2001 visa application, according to court records.
The other incident dates to an application Chaudhry filed to become a reserve officer at the Yakima Police Department. He allegedly misrepresented his citizenship, according to court records.
Chaudhry counters that he didn’t understand what was happening when he pleaded guilty to the fraud charges in Australia, and he says he doesn’t remember misrepresenting his citizenship in Yakima.
He came to the country legally, and he said he joined the National Guard in March 2001 out of a desire to serve. He suffered back injuries while training to go to Iraq with the 81st Brigade Combat Team in 2003. He never deployed.
Chaudhry’s case is progressing in two courts.
One is through the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review, which advanced his case Wednesday.
Chaudhry’s attorney asked to be removed from the case because of “communication problems,” and immigration judge Paul DeFonzo set another hearing for April 13. Wednesday’s hearing ended without a determination about whether the attorney would stay on the case.
The other legal venue is at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco. Chaudhry has asked that court to overturn an October ruling in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington that supported a 2008 decision denying him citizenship.
Lonny Suko, chief judge for the district court in Washington, was skeptical about Chaudhry’s changing stories in his interviews with immigration officers over the past few years.
“This court finds that a disturbing pattern of deceit for immigration-related purposes permeates this case,” Suko wrote. “The court rejects Chaudhry’s attempts to create a genuine issue by claiming memory lapses and making conclusory protestations of innocence.”
Chaudhry moved to Washington in 2000, following an uncle who taught at Central Washington University. He met Ann that year, and they married Jan. 25, 2000.
The couple moved to Lacey from Yakima in 2009 to be closer to Madigan Army Medical Center. Last year, the Chaudhrys feuded with the City of Lacey over its decision to turn off utilities to a home they bought at auction in September 2009. Assistant City Manager Scott Spence said Wednesday that the utilities were restored to the home in September after unsafe conditions were addressed.
Chaudhry embraced his friends warmly before and after the hearing, thanking them for making the trip. At times, they chanted “Keep Zahid here.”
“They have nothing to hide, and it appears that this is some form of prejudice,” said supporter Doug Mackey, 59, of Olympia. “Then you deport a U.S. soldier to Pakistan? Think about it.”
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/military
Staff writer Christian Hill contributed to this report.