Tuesday, 26 March, 2019

Trump targeting families in Bangladesh

Published on: 3:07 pm - Friday | June 29, 2018



In the last 10 years, the country issued deportation orders for 7,364 Bangladeshis,though deportation of undocumented Bangladeshis from the USA is nothing new. The period during Bill Clinton’s presidency particularly saw over a thousand Bangladeshis being marked for deportation each year.

Deportation is a terrible—albeit legal—outcome for immigrants dreaming of a new life. But each administration has done it differently. Most of the Bangladeshis being sent back home during the Obama administration were men who came alone, leaving their families behind in Bangladesh. Research by Syracuse University also found that the Obama administration were mostly prosecuting people who had just arrived in the country.

In the case of the Trump administration, it is the exact opposite. Only 10 percent of the immigration cases being scrutinised by the Trump administration relate to newly-arrived people—meaning, a majority of the people being caught in the hook are longer-term residents of the US.

That is how Aminul Hoque and his family ended up back in Bangladesh 18 years after they had left it for good.

“Father was at work when two law enforcement men knocked on our door asking where he was,” describes Evana Akter, Aminul Hoque’s college-age daughter. Although they were dressed in plainclothes and never said who they were, something told Evana that the men might be agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She kept her cool and lied to the men, saying she had no idea where her father was.

That did not deter them from turning up at the eatery in the city of Newark of New Jersey state where Aminul worked.

“About 20 minutes after I closed the door on them my mother called me up and said my father had been picked up,” says Evana.

Aminul continues the story from here. “I was taken to jail as a prisoner. They were executing a deportation order issued against me. My lawyer said she can try to get a stay on the order but there is no guarantee that I will be let out of prison,” he says. So he accepted his fate of being sent back to Bangladesh. It is, after all, better to be sent back than be in jail.

Aminul’s home country’s general stance is that immigrants who are staying in any country without documents can be deported back to Bangladesh because it is in the law. Even though immigrants return home every year there is hardly any national discourse on their plight or their rights. Pick up any North Jersey newspaper or news website, it will have blow-by-blow coverage of the journey of Aminul Hoque and his family as they navigated the deportation procedures. Local immigration rights support groups formed human chains to demand the family be allowed to stay back.

Their home country, the country that earned 7.24 percent of its GDP this year from remittances sent from abroad by workers like Aminul and his wife, never said a word.

Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

In Bangladesh, the lack of any activism or advocacy surrounding deportations of people like Aminul stems from the idea that being undocumented is a criminal act. This assumption shows a lack of understanding for the complexity of immigration procedures. Aminul Hoque used to be a Jatiya Party supporter and eked out a living by working as a contractor like most people involved in party politics. He fled to South Africa from Bangladesh after 1996 when Bangladesh Nationalist Party won the elections. Then he, along with two of his brothers, bought a shop in Botswana where Aminul lived for several years as a proud shopkeeper. “We expanded to four corner stores and business was doing well. Twice a week we participated in a flea market,” says Aminul. His wife gave birth to Evana, and then three and a half years later, to a son. All this changed when his shop was broken into.

“It was a very unsafe neighbourhood. I wanted to move my children somewhere better,” says Aminul. So he and his family joined his sister in the USA in 2004 and applied for political asylum. These procedures are lengthy, during which time families build lives in USA—for example between the time Aminul applied for asylum and his final removal, his children had grown up and the family had a third son born to them.

“My asylum application was affected by the fact that I had travelled back to Bangladesh this one time to see my ailing mother,” says Aminul. People applying for asylum have to prove that it is impossible for them to live in their home country and lawyers often suggest that making a trip back home while the application is underway can weaken the case. For giving into the urge to see his mother once in 18 years, Aminul’s application was jeopardised.

Also undocumented or not, the family got yearly work permits and paid their taxes, meaning they contributed to the US economy. These taxes were basically money down the drain because undocumented persons do not qualify for any government benefits like social safety programmes. The family classifies as low-income, but was not eligible for any help from the government. Only their youngest son, who is a citizen, received food stamps for himself which the family of five shared.

Demanding that immigrants legally reside in a country, or suffer the consequences alone, is a denial of the reality that hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis live and work as undocumented residents across the world. Exact numbers are difficult to find because undocumented people rarely enter the system for fear of being deported. An example, however, might give some idea: in 2015 the city of New York gave identity cards to 50,000 undocumented Bangladeshis—50,000 was simply the cap set by the city and does not reflect the actual number of undocumented people. Also to note—this was in one city only. Aminul’s state of residence, New Jersey, houses an equally sizeable Bangladeshi population.

A cold impassive wall greeted the family when they arrived in Bangladesh. “How do I start my life all over again?” laments Aminul. “I only have Tk 3 or 4 lakh in savings. I am currently residing in my brother’s home in Siddhirganj. How can I get a job here after all these years?”

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