Decades before Alamdar Hamdani was sworn in as the chief federal law enforcement officer for the Southern District of Texas, he was a second-year lawyer providing free representation to South Asian and Muslim community members interviewed by the FBI after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I realized people who looked like me or shared my parents’ faith would be looked at differently because of Sept. 11,” Hamdani said. “So I did civil rights work and civil liberties work pro bono …”
Hamdani, who was working for a Houston law firm and volunteering with American Civil Liberties Union at the time, said he’ll use his “valuable experience” as an immigrant and person of color to analyze cases during his tenure as a U.S. attorney.
“I have an identity I think is important, just as other folks do,” he said. “Whether the person is of color or not, there is an identity and an experience that is important. Those experiences help inform what we do.”
President Joe Biden nominated Hamdani to become the 24th U.S. Attorney in the SDTX in December 2022. He will overseeing 408 employees and 220 assistant U.S. attorneys in the SDTX, which spreads over seven different offices — including Houston, McAllen, Laredo, Galveston, Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Victoria.
“I am thankful and I am humbled that I am the U.S. attorney and all I can do is make my mama proud,” Hamdani said.
Coming into the position as U.S. attorney, Hamdani said he knew he’d be “drinking from a firehouse” and giving up sleep and time, but it’s all worth it because it’s “a great gig.”
“I get up before my alarm right now, all raring to go,” he said.
Hamdani’s parents emigrated from Surat, Gujarat, India, to England, where his father worked as a cab driver. His family moved to the United States in 1982 when he was 10 years old. His father continued to drive cabs in Euless while working a second job at a 7-Eleven convenience store and his mother worked for Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
“I grew up in a small two-bedroom apartment with my little sister, my mom and dad,” Hamdani said.
Hamdani’s official portrait now hangs in the common area of the U.S. Attorney’s Office alongside framed photos of Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland. When it was time to put up the portrait, Hamdani said he wanted to do it himself.
“When I was confirmed by the United States Senate, I put up that picture,” Hamdani said. “I ran downstairs and I found it. And when I put it up on the wall, I felt the weight of the expectations of all the folks, especially my immigrant parents and the community that got me to this position.”
Hamdani earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas in 1993 and his juris doctor from the University of Houston Law Center in 1999. Habib Ilahi, a government enforcement and white-collar defense attorney in Washington, became good friends with Hamdani after law school at UH when the two helped establish the South Asian Bar Association of Houston.
“There just weren’t a lot of South Asian lawyers, or at least they didn’t have an organization,” Ilahi said. “(Hamdani) was instrumental in kind of getting people enthusiastic about the organization locally in Houston.”
Hamdani also helped form the South Asian Bar Association of North America in 2003 and held various leadership positions in the organization, including president from 2007 to 2008. Ilahi called the South Asian Bar “a great platform” because it gave him and Hamdani access to the community.
“(Hamdani) was super passionate about the South Asian Bar,” he said. “That in turn got other people passionate about it, and I was one of them.”
When Hamdani started his own law firm, Hamdani & Simon LLP, in 2005 he began to meet federal prosecutors at his office. During these meetings, he acquainted himself with them and learned about the decency of the people he was litigating against, the assistant U.S. attorneys.
Hamdani takes pride in the first South Asian to become a U.S. attorney, Amul Roger Thapar, offering him a job as an AUSA in the Eastern District of Kentucky. Thapar is currently serving as a U.S. circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
“I moved my family, including my then-very-pregnant wife and very small son, to Kentucky and was there a couple of years,” Hamdani said.
He worked with the Department of Justice’s counterterrorism section and litigated terrorism cases for five years alongside U.S. Attorney Offices across the country. It wasn’t until 2014 that Hamdani returned to the SDTX and joined the national security and public corruption sections.
“Whether he was in private practice, Main Justice or working as an ASUSA, he really cares about civil rights,” Anil Mujumdar, an assistant professor of law in residence and director of diversity and inclusion at the University of Alabama School of Law, said about his friend of 16 years.
Hamdani plans on running the U.S. Attorney’s Office under a philosophy he calls the “mama rule,” which he said is based on how his 80-year-old mother protects those she’s responsible for.
“Imagine the mother from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ but my mama is a shorter Indian version of that woman,” Hamdani said.
Hamdani’s parents were pariahs as brown, elderly people who immigrated to a country where they struggled to make ends meet.
“I saw my daddy work two jobs,” Hamdani said. “I saw him do the airport run to (Dallas Fort Worth International Airport). He’d wait three hours to make $40 and go back and do it again. Then I’d see him go home, change and head off to 7-Eleven.”
All of the AUSAs with the SDTX will be asked to work hard like Hamdani’s father and treat others how his mother treats the people she cares about. Hamdani said he’d do the same and treat his defense counsel and the others in his office “like a family.”
For a longer version of this article, please visit HoustonChronicle.com.