Naz’s Story in the Trib

Newlywed hopes to free her husband, prevent deportation

By: Tommy Witherspoon, Tribune-Herald staff writer

Photo: Rod Aydelotte / Waco Tribune-Herald

 

Sunday April 10, 2011

Newlyweds Nazry and Hope Mustakim had big plans to make Waco a better place and were on their way to becoming one of the city’s leading “power teams.”

Their dream to open a home — Hope House — for neglected teens, and to build a faith-based program for those with addictions were on track to become reality as Hope finishes her undergraduate degree in social work at Baylor University.

That was until March 30, when armed agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) knocked on the door of their North 12th Street home, woke up the couple at 7 a.m. and hauled away Nazry, called Naz by everyone who knows him.

Naz was taken to an immigration detention facility 60 miles south of San Antonio, where he remains as he awaits a hearing before an immigration judge that could lead to possible deportation to his native Singapore.

Since her husband of eight months has been detained, Hope, a native of Lafayette, La., has been on a one-woman crusade to “Free Naz” that is steadily growing as friends and others who have been helped or befriended by Naz during the past four years find out about their plight.

In just a short time, the 25-year-old Hope has organized an impressive campaign that would make some national political parties envious.

Using social media websites, text messages, word of mouth and a website of her own, freenaz.com., Hope is doing all she can think of to try to keep her husband from being deported because of a 2007 drug conviction.

She organized a fundraiser last week that pulled in $1,000 from “Free Naz” T-shirts, and has collected hundreds of signatures on a petition asking that Naz be returned to Hope, their three dogs and the friends who love him.

Next, she will organize friends to give videotaped testimonials about what Naz has meant to their lives and why he should not be deported.

“If you just look throughout the Waco community, you will find so many people whose lives have been personally touched by Naz,” Hope said. “He is selfless and a giving person. Because of the resources in Waco, including Mission Waco and TSTC, he has become a completely different person who gives back.

“If Waco loses him, it will be losing a huge asset. We are invested in Waco. We care about where North Waco goes, the redevelopment, the renewal. If they lose us, they are losing a power team. We are ready to do something big in Waco.”

Naz, 31, was raised in Singapore’s Muslim culture. He mostly lived with his grandmother until he was 13, when his mother, a native dancer and mini-celebrity, married an American. They moved to Valley View, a small, all-white community in Cooke County in North Texas.

He was teased and bullied because he was not like the rest of the children. So to fit in, Naz started drinking, then smoking pot. He became addicted to methamphetamine in his late teens.

He was arrested at least five times, the last of which resulted in a conviction in 2007 for possession with intent to distribute the powerful stimulant. He was placed on probation for 10 years.

Naz was living in this country legally as a resident alien with a green card. When he pleaded guilty to the felony charge, Hope said Naz does not remember being admonished that his guilty plea to an offense of that nature could result in deportation. Typically, that admonishment is standard in most any criminal plea proceeding.

Many officials told Naz they were surprised that it automatically did not set the wheels in motion toward his removal to Singapore.

But when he had to reapply for his green card a few years ago, Naz thought nothing of it when it was renewed and he started trying to rebuild his life here in Waco.

Looking back, Hope and attorneys familiar with the immigration process think Naz triggered his possible deportation when he applied to renew his green card, which likely put him on the ICE radar after his felony conviction.

Redemption in Waco

Naz began to put his life back together in Waco after a judge in Cooke County sent Naz as a condition of his probation to Manna House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center run by Mission Waco.

Naz kicked drugs, converted to Christianity and earned three associate’s degrees in computer-related studies at TSTC. He also became one of Mission Waco executive director Jimmy Dorrell’s major success stories, a prized volunteer and, later, a valuable employee.

Naz frequently tells the story of his addiction and his conversion to Christianity to those at the homeless shelter and Manna House, Dorrell said.

“Naz is probably one of the most incredible guys I have ever known, in terms of his life and the quality of his character,” Dorrell said. “He is just a great guy, and he has been so good for us. He can do anything and he is so eager to help in any way he can. He worked at our homeless shelter, he worked on our computers, he did our web design, he led Bible studies. He is just incredible.”

Hope and Naz met in April 2009, when Hope worked as an intern at Mission Waco, where she still works as assistant youth director.

They were married in July 2010 at a home overlooking Lake Conroe, but had another ceremony with the “extended family” they adopted through their work at Mission Waco. Dorrell performed the second ceremony at the Church Under the Bridge, where Mission Waco’s homeless ministry worships.

Hope also serves as music director at Life Church, where she and Naz are members.

“That is the only thing that is keeping us going, knowing that God is in control,” Naz said in a brief telephone interview from the detention center in Pearsall.

Naz said his family back in Singapore have all but disowned him because of his conversion to Christianity. If he is deported, it will just be him and Hope, he said.

“We really believe that because of our faith, God is doing something bigger through all of this,” Hope said. “The social worker in me wants to say that maybe we will be part of policy change. But maybe there is someone in that detention center who Naz is supposed to reach. He is already talking to guys in there and trying to help them. He is sharing his story with them.”

Vince Hartsfield, director of Manna House, said Naz is the most compassionate person he knows.

“When I met Naz, he was Muslim. Now he is a card-carrying Christian,” he said. “He is the real deal. He knows the word and he applies it in his daily life. He is a wonderful person and I love him with everything I have. I know he is going to be OK.”

Nine Pruneda, a spokeswoman for ICE in San Antonio, said she could not comment about specific cases. But she said immigration detainees’ fates are determined by an immigration judge on a case-by-case basis.

Susan I. Nelson, a Waco attorney who handles immigration cases, said Naz likely “fell through the cracks” in the system when he went to rehab instead of prison after his conviction. Convictions for certain types of offenses, like drug dealing, normally result in deportation and leave the judge little discretion, Nelson said.

The best and perhaps only option for Naz is to get an attorney to try to reopen his criminal case in Cooke County and to try to get his conviction set aside based on claims that he was not informed sufficiently that his guilty plea could lead to his deportation, Nelson said.

“Immigration laws, as they relate to drug offenses, are particularly harsh in that there is little room for redemption,” Nelson said.

twitherspoon@wacotrib.com

757-5737

 

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