U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 85 detainees for repatriation to Southeast Asia on April 3, 2016. Many of them were Muslims from Bangladesh. The deportations came as a result of an agreement formed between the State Department and the Bangladeshi government. The asylum seekers were fleeing political violence— many had left Bangladesh, crossed several countries to seek safe haven in the U.S., fearing persecution for supporting the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), otherwise known as the Awami League.
Detainees arriving in Bangladesh say that they were tied up in body bags and suffered torture while in detention and during their deportation. These individuals trekked across South and Central Americas to the US-Mexico border and then turned themselves in to border patrol seeking asylum. Many were detained for up to two years without proper recourse.
“They kept us only in the prison. Not only they kept us detained, even we were kept tied to hands and legs with each other. Everyone was tied. We were tied for three days. Some of them were put in the body bags, which are used for dead bodies. At least 2,000 to 3,000 Bangladeshis are still imprisoned in U.S. jails,” said a deportee speaking to media at the airport in Dhaka.
Another testified that his hands were tied to his waist with chains. “I was also chained to my legs. They didn’t feed us for the whole journey. We have never seen such horror in our life,” he added.
“We are again dealing with hundreds being deported. And many of them to danger, possibly even death. The fear is palpable in the crying phone calls we get. The fear is palpable in the voices of those detainees who call laughing, joking, and talking about everything but don't say or ask anything about the impending deportations,” says Fahd Ahmed of Desi Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), a social justice organization focusing on the rights of South Asian immigrants.
“[On Sunday night], over a 100 were taken away. Some will only have to deal with the incredible debts and trauma they incurred through the journeys of walking across dozens of countries to get here. But some will also return to face police, government agencies, religious extremists, and other threats eagerly waiting for them. The same reasons they left in the first place,” adds Ahmed.
According to reports from detainees, over 500 hundred South Asian migrants have currently been amassed at a detention center in Florence, Arizona. “Bangladesh has among the highest numbers of asylum claims outside the Western Hemisphere—more than doubling from 2013 to 2014 to about 580,” writes Michelle Chen in the Nation.
Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, urged the Obama administration to stop the deportation of undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants pending a thorough look into their asylum claims.
Activism by the Bangladeshi-American community had brought this concern for a group of Bangladeshis "with legitimate claims of asylum are in imminent danger of deportation” to Crowley’s attention.
On Tuesday, March 29, 2016, protesters rallied in front of Hillary Clinton’s New York campaign headquarters seeking support and comments from the Presidential candidate.
“Because the political situation in Bangladesh is extremely bad, it is guaranteed when I go back home that someone will kill me,” Saif Islam, an asylum seeker and Awami League supporter, told The Huffington Post through a translator at Tuesday’s rally.
"Because they are political asylum seekers, they will most likely be abducted and tortured,” said Kamran Ahmed, one of the seven asylum seekers attending the protest told the Daily News. Ahmed (no relation to Fahd) had been detained at the El Paso detention center where a number of the men are still detained and facing deportation.
Many of these asylum seekers participated in the #FreedomGiving hunger strikes last year in fall; they protested then at the Clinton headquarter and were back seeking support with urgency. Activists say that asylum seekers’ names were leaked to the media, so the Bangladeshi government knows who they are, and has already threatened their families. They warn that unless action is taken, they will be sent to their deaths.
“Last Fall, asylum-seekers exposed their prolonged detention and discriminatory treatment inside Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers with several waves of hunger strikes that involved over 1,000 people and twelve facilities. Some participants went over twenty days refusing food and only resumed eating after ICE officials sought authorization for tortuous forced feeding and catheterization to break the strikes,” shared Fahd Ahmed.
While media attention has focused on Trump’s virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric, mass deportation of Muslims is already reality sanctioned by Democratic Party-backed policies for many refugees and migrants, say activists.
"While many of are rightfully worried about the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric come from the Republican candidates, the Obama administration is actually implementing those policies right now to keep Muslim, South Asian and African refugees out of the country, and to deport them back to death or danger. We don't need elected officials who talk nice us. We need to push to change policies that benefit the most marginalized within our communities and society,” said Ahmed of DRUM to the Muslim Link.
The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) also issued a statement in solidarity with the asylum seekers. “We are reminded that as anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric continues to be used as leverage for Presidential candidates of the Republican party, we are also equally disgusted by the policies sanctioned by the Democratic party ordering the mass deportations of refugees and migrants, including women and children, to their deaths,” added APALA's National President Johanna Puno Hester. “Furthermore, the racist policies that justify the racial and religious profiling that continuously criminalize Muslim and South Asian refugees and migrants need to end.
The hashtag #Deported2Death on social media highlights the consequences of the potential removals. APALA, DRUM, MPower Change and the #Not1More Campaign are calling on the Homeland Security and State Departments to stop the removal of these detainees.
Groups encouraged concerned residents to sign the petition to demand an immediate halt to deportations. The petition was hosted by the #Not1More Campaign at:
Follow #Deported2Death and #Not1More on Twitter.