Bangladeshis Jailed in Mexico over Attempts to Enter US Illegally

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Bangladeshis Jailed in Mexico over Attempts to Enter US Illegally A Mexican marine orders a group of migrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to step back at an immigration checkpoint near Tapachula, Mexico, June 21, 2019.

At least 230 Bangladeshis trying to enter the United States illegally from across the southern border are languishing in Mexican jails after being arrested between January and August, according to a letter from the Bangladesh embassy obtained by BenarNews.

Ninety percent of those arrested come from one district in Bangladesh, said the letter from the diplomatic mission in Mexico City asking for advice from the Bangladeshi government. In Dhaka, home ministry officials who received it said they had been working to curb international human smuggling networks.

“You will find some desperate people (Bangladeshis) who resort to illegal means to go abroad at any cost. They always try to go to European countries and America. But, I think, their numbers have come down,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews on Tuesday.

“We have tightened our immigration regime and introduced e-passports. Hopefully, human trafficking from Bangladesh would decrease in the future – we will eliminate it,” he said.

Bangladeshi community leaders in the United States – who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid possible follow-up questions from U.S. immigration officials – said the Mexico border was always a route for Bangladeshis entering the United States illegally via overland routes in Central and South America, but it became more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the letter warned that unless the human smuggling was stopped, Bangladesh could be demoted in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report, and this could sour Dhaka’s ties with Washington.

“Bangladesh has been at Tier 2 in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report. If this trend of human trafficking continues, Bangladesh could be downgraded in the next TIP report and would come under huge international pressure,” Nur Khan, a human rights activist, told BenarNews.

He and other activists said human trafficking of Bangladeshis had been on the rise in recent years because of economic uncertainties and lack of employment opportunities back home.

The letter described how the Bangladeshis set out to enter the U.S. illegally by crossing the border with Mexico. It said immigrants from India were the largest number making the attempt while the number from Bangladesh was significant.

The letter said the Bangladeshis, who carried valid travel documents, departed Dhaka for Indian cities of Kolkata and New Delhi.

“They would fly to Dubai from New Delhi and reach Sao Paulo (in Brazil) via Addis Ababa. From Sao Paulo, they would fly to Peru,” the letter said.

The Bangladeshis would cross eight countries – Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – on foot, by boat and bus.

“In exchange for a hefty amount of money, a section of dishonest human traffickers would lure the youth from the lower- and lower-middle class families for the dangerous and uncertain journey,” the letter said, adding those seeking get to get to the U.S. end up paying at least 1.5 million taka (U.S. $17,500) at different stages.

After crossing Panama, the Bangladeshis would destroy their passports in a bid to claim stateless refugee status in Mexico, a member of the international human rights convention, according to the letter.

Later, after reaching Mexican cities along the U.S. border, they would voluntarily surrender to police, the letter said. According to the convention, the Mexican government cannot detain them for more than 40 consecutive days because of their stateless claim.

Prefer ‘death’

Once released, many people try – some successfully – to enter the U.S. illegally, according to the letter. It said 421 Bangladeshis were detained in Mexico in 2017; 631 in 2018; 421 in 2019; 230 in 2020 and the same number this year.

“If we offered them free tickets, they would say they preferred death to returning to Bangladesh,” the letter said.

While in Mexican custody, the Bangladeshis falsely claim to be members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), but cannot name officials, according to the party leader.

“I have come to know from you that my party leaders and activists have been going to the Mexico border to enter the U.S.,” Oli Ahmad, the LDP president, told BenarNews on Tuesday. “The human traffickers have been misusing my party name.”

Growing trend

Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladesh ambassador to the United States, said the number of Bangladeshis seeking to enter the U.S. by crossing the Mexican border was small in 2005 and 2006.

“This trend has increased in recent years. And this is due to economic factors,” he said.

“Every year, 2 million new people join the job market and a large number of them cannot find good jobs. So, a section of these youths has been attempting to sneak into European countries and the U.S. by whatever means,” Kabir told BenarNews.

“We cannot stop it overnight. Unless we can guarantee decent work and job opportunities, this trend will continue,” he said.

Khan, the human rights activist, agreed with Kabir that the trend of Bangladeshis heading to the U.S. had grown in recent years.

“The root cause is economic inequality and economic uncertainties in Bangladesh where only a handful of people have been enjoying the fruit of the government’s development initiatives,” he told BenarNews.

Khan said the coronavirus pandemic forced more Bangladeshis to leave after losing their jobs.

“Therefore, they have been trying to enter the U.S. and European countries with the help of human traffickers. Many of them die en route,” he said.

The U.S. recently cracked down on at least one Bangladeshi trafficker. On Sept. 28, the Department of Justice sentenced Mohamad Milon Hossain, 41, identified as a Bangladeshi national who had lived in Tapachula, Mexico, to 46 months in prison for his role in a scheme to smuggle undocumented people into the country.

“This human smuggling conspiracy operated on a global scale and endangered the lives of Bangladeshi migrants,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in a statement at the time.

“The Justice Department will continue working with our law enforcement partners here and abroad to bring human smugglers like Hossain to justice and to disrupt these criminal networks that unlawfully bring migrants from across the world into the United States.”

Mahbub Leelen in Washington contributed to this story.


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