The migrants crossed the Mexican border the same way thousands of others will this year, exhausted and desperate for relief. But when they encountered US immigration authorities, they spoke not of fleeing drug-war violence in Latin America but of seeking to escape political persecution on the other side of the world. They were refugees of a transnational migration crisis, representing the latest wave of social upheaval in Bangladesh now reverberating around the world.
Jahed Ahmed fled his hometown of Moulvi Bazar in northeastern Bangladesh, where he says he was targeted for his association with the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP). His connections led to the destruction of his father’s business and sent him fleeing to seek refuge abroad through a trafficking network. In a recent interview through an interpreter, Ahmed says he joined thousands of others on the harrowing journey from Asia through Central America to the southern US border—and ended up in detention last November, penniless and unable to communicate in his native language.
And while in custody, despite passing a “credible fear screening,” he says his asylum claim has been doomed because the US government had controversially branded the BNP a “third tier” terrorist organization—a label that human-rights advocates have challenged.
According to the Bangladeshi human-rights group Odhikar, many people like Ahmed are victims of political terror themselves, as violence has intensified since the BNP boycotted last year’s elections: “from January to June 2015, 148 persons were killed and 4,103 injured in political violence,” often abetted by the ruling party, including incidents of “enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings” and torture.
According to Kazi Fouzia, an organizer with the South Asian American advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), traffickers have seized opportunistically on this chaos, promising to bring people to safety in the United States for a hefty sum. Statistically, though, they face extremely harsh odds. According to fiscal 2014 federal records, the US government received 584 asylum claims—more than double the previous year, but granted just 52 of the cases and denied 35.
Though most arriving through the US-Mexico border are Latin American migrants, Vice reported recently on rising migration from Asia via Mexico: as of mid-September, US authorities apprehended roughly 3000 Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Nepalis at the southern border, over triple the number apprehended in 2012. Many so-called “third country” migrants are detained as asylum seekers.