July 01 2013
Bob Braun, a former longtime columnist for The Star-Ledger, is following Rush Holt’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. He will be sharing his thoughts and his stories from the campaign trail from time to time.
What does a member of Congress do? Well, you know, vote on bills, attend committee meetings, make speeches, raise money, run for re-election, vote on bills. That sort of thing.
And, sometimes, but not too often, a member of Congress saves a family caught up in a national horror compounded by a personal tragedy. Saves a widowed mother of four—a woman whose husband was murdered in a hate crime—from deportation. That’s what Rush Holt did.
The woman’s name is Durre Hasan. Like most of us, she remembers where she was the morning of September 11, 2001. She had just made sure her four daughters—11 to 17—were off to school. She turned on the television and watched in disbelief. Then, the phone rang. Her husband Waqar, was calling from Dallas where he had just started a new business. A store and gas station. He operated one in North Brunswick but sought a better opportunity for his family in Texas.
“He called because he wanted to make sure we were all right,” she remembers. Yes, she told him. She and their daughters were fine. No, he should not worry just because they were a lot closer to Ground Zero than he was. No, he should not worry because they were Muslim.
But Waqar was very close to the Ground Zero of the hatred 9/11 ignited against foreigners among some in the United States. Four days after Waqar Hasan called to make sure his family was safe, a man named Mark Stroman walked into the Dallas store and ordered two hamburgers. Waqar turned to the man and faced a gun, a .380 calliber handgun. Stroman fired twice and killed Waqar Hasan. In a matter of weeks, he would kill another man, a non-Muslim Indian, and badly injure a third, an immigrant from Bangladesh.
“I did what every American wanted to do but didn’t,” said Stroman.
After Durre and her children learned what happened, they retreated inside their Milltown home, overcome by grief and afraid of what might happen next. Not only had Durre lost her husband and her children their father, they also lost the chance to remain in America. Waqar had petitioned for a green card and was awaiting action form immigration officials, but the procedure ended with is death.
“We could have been deported,” says Durre, who had been in the country since 1994. She and the members of her family were legal immigrants from Pakistan.
But something unusual happened. Well, a number of unusual things happened--and they all had to do with Rush Holt. In the midst of the pain and the anger and the sorrow, Holt called Imam Hamad Ahmad Chebli of the Islamic Center of Central Jersey in South Brunswick to make sure he and members of his mosque were safe.
“He asked the imam whether anyone needed help and the imam told him about what happened to us,” says Durre Hasan. “The congressman stepped in right away. He was at my husband’s funeral and he asked what he could do for my family.”
Holt was able to persuade his colleagues in Congress in 2004 to pass very rare private legislation that he wrote to ensure the Hasans would receive their green cards, their permanent residency, and continue on their way to citizenship. President George W. Bush signed the bill.
“The first time he spoke to us he told us not to worry about anything. He would take care of it all. He said that and he meant that,” Durre says.
Life without Waqar has been “bumpy,” his widow says. But she has raised her four daughters to womanhood. Three went to college and now are married with their own children. The youngest, Iqra, is finishing her degree at New Jersey City University.
“We have received support from people all over New Jersey,” says Durre.
The Hasans unsuccessfully sought to persuade Texas officials not to execute Waqar’s murderer. He died by lethal injection July 20, 2011. Before his execution, he asked Durre and her daughters for their forgiveness and they did forgive him.
“Life is so precious,” says Durre. “We can’t judge who should live.” Durre has moved from Milltown to Parlin. In March, 2012, she and her daughters became citizens at a ceremony in Holt’s office. “That was my husband’s dream,” she says.
She says she was surprised by how concerned Holt was about her family.
“He is truly a man of his word,” she says.