Federal Government Targeting Muslims in ‘Mass Deportation’ Slated for Monday

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Federal Government Targeting Muslims in ‘Mass Deportation’ Slated for Monday

Tina Vasquez

Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, said the South Asian and Muslim populations being targeted for the "mass deportation" have “always suffered an elevated level of scrutiny, restriction, and obstacles” within the U.S. immigration system.

On Monday, immigration authorities, working with the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will deport at least 500 South Asian detainees, along with migrants from India, Pakistan, and Africa, advocates told Rewire. The reason behind the anticipated mass deportation remains unclear, but advocates believe a bulk of those being deported are Muslim.

Many of those expected to face deportation have escaped political persecution in Bangladesh and could face death upon their return, advocates charged.

#Not1More, a campaign to expose, confront, and overcome unjust immigration laws, last week released a statement reporting that immigration authorities have begun transporting South Asian detainees to a detention center in Florence, Arizona, in preparation for a “mass deportation.” The South Asian detainees are primarily from Bangladesh, the same population that participated in the #FreedomGiving hunger strike that launched the day before Thanksgiving.

The hunger strike took place at detention centers across the country with the goal of bringing “attention to the prolonged, unjustified, and discriminatory detention of Muslim and South Asian migrants,” according to #Not1More.

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Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire he learned authorities were transferring South Asian Muslims to Florence, Arizona, over the weekend of March 26, and that deportations of groups of two or three people have already begun.

Because of the anti-Muslim climate currently in the United States, DRUM organizers “anticipated something like this would happen,” Ahmed told Rewire, “but we didn’t know exactly where or when.”

DRUM helped coordinate the #FreedomGiving hunger strike. Those who worked with the organization during the strike are already being affected by the anticipated deportations. One of the detainees who organized with DRUM notified Ahmed that he had been transferred to Florence along with hundreds of South Asian detainees.

This was also confirmed by Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama. The Etowah facility has large Muslim and African populations, Weathers said.

The 14-day #FreedomGiving hunger strike ended at Etowah when Chief U.S District Judge Karon O. Bowdre authorized officials to force-feed one of the hunger strikers because of his “deteriorating health,” as Rewire reported last year.

Weathers told Rewire that she received a call last week from a Bangladeshi detainee at Etowah who had been in the United States for years and had avoided deportation many times, but had recently been transferred from Etowah to a detention center in Louisiana, and then finally to Florence, Arizona.

Weathers said the detainee “indicated that immigration officials are arranging charter flights from Arizona to transport a large number [of detainees] to their countries of origin.”

Ahmed said the South Asian and Muslim populations being targeted for the mass deportation have “always suffered an elevated level of scrutiny, restriction, and obstacles” within the U.S. immigration system.

Bangladeshi migrants have seen bond amounts set anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000, Ahmed said. Immigration bond amounts, set by immigrations judges or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), usually start at $1,500 and can increase to $10,000 should the detainee be deemed a flight risk.

“We’re also seeing that South Asian detainees are being held for prolonged detention. All of this brings up a lot of questions about racial and religious profiling,” said Ahmed.

DRUM’s executive director said he is troubled by the involvement of the state department in the anticipated mass deportation. The U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh gave the detainees’ names and personal information to the Bangladeshi government, which the campaign reports is in violation of international law, according to #Not1More. Bangladeshi media leaked and published the names of the detainees, putting the men in more danger.

“In violation of their [ICE’s] own protocols, the detainees may be expelled despite being witnesses and victims to civil rights violations that are under open investigation by the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties within DHS,” #Not1More reported.

Ahmed said giving over names of detainees to a government is not unusual because names have to be used to obtain the travel documents necessary for deportation. What is unusual is that the names of the detainees were leaked by the Bangladeshi government, which Ahmed said confirms the concerns raised by the Bangladeshi migrants about their government’s “level, extent, and tactics of oppression.”

“When the hunger strikes happened and again when those names were turned over and leaked by the media, a lot of the detainees’ families were visited by intelligence agencies in Bangladesh who didn’t just ask about their name or where they lived, but they asked about their asylum claims, asked about the hunger strikes, asked why they were giving the country a bad name,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

Last year, DHS adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. Many advocacy groups came to the defense of the BNP, including the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, asserting the BNP is not a terrorist organization.

Advocates told Rewire that if this population is deported, they may face death in Bangladesh, which is why immigrant rights organizations are trying to raise awareness about the mass deportation using the #Deported2Death hashtag.

“As their government employs more extensive oppressive measures, it’s caused a lot of people to leave and flee violence,” Ahmed said. “If deported, these men would have already been at risk, but now that their names have been leaked and the Bangladeshi government and media affiliated with the government are talking about them as hunger strikers and asylum seekers, they are in even more danger. There has been documentation of disappearances, torture, and death in Bangladesh of opposition activists.”

Lisa Moyer, an organizer with Shut Down Etowah, a grassroots organization fighting for the closure of the detention center, said she believes anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States is fueling the mass deportation. She said she doesn’t know why the state department and DHS are working together, bypassing ICE, for the mass deportation.

In an emailed statement to Rewire, a state department official wrote:

An individual who is not a U.S. citizen or national may be subject to deportation following arrest and conviction of certain crimes. An individual’s religion is not a consideration in the decision to deport. Yes, we have been in contact with the Government of Bangladesh as part of U.S. Government efforts to uphold our immigration laws, but as a matter of policy we do not discuss details of our diplomatic discussions with other countries. For questions about deportation policy or proceedings, we refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.

Like Moyer, Ahmed is uncertain why the state department is getting involved in matters of immigration, but asserts it is merely an extension of the Obama administration’s policies around the deportation of asylum seekers, particularly those who are Muslim.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of rhetoric from Republicans about building walls, about deporting Muslims, about kicking Muslims out, so what we’re seeing is the current administration implementing policies in line with that kind of rhetoric,” he said. “So many asylum seekers are being denied their claims and being deported, only to be killed, which sadly confirms they had valid claims. Our system didn’t allow them to properly raise those claims. It may not be a physical wall, but it’s a legal wall being erected to kick Muslims out.”

Weathers said most of the Bangladeshi men in Etowah speak Bengali, but one Bangladeshi detainee knows English and writes letters for the other men. The letter writer told Weathers that like many of the detainees from Bangladesh, he was tortured by the Awami League and his family was threatened. His family sold their belongings and property to buy him passage to South America, where he made the long journey through several countries in South and Central America to present himself at the United States-Mexico border as an asylum seeker, only to be placed in ICE detention.

In one letter to Weathers, an Etowah detainee shared that he left Bangladesh to avoid being locked up in “deplorable conditions” to come to the United States seeking safety—and giving up everything to do that—only to find himself in “worse conditions” than his country would have had. The detainee said that his treatment at Etowah has been more degrading and harmful.

Moyer said it’s routinely repeated by new detainees at Etowah that the Alabama-based detention center is the worst of all the detention centers they have been held, with many complaining of too little food of very poor quality, inadequate clothing and blankets in cold weather, no access to the outside, unreasonable charges for commissary items and phone calls to family members, and inadequate medical care.

In a group letter written to Weathers by detainees and shared with Rewire, the Bangladeshi detainees inside Etowah explained their situation, writing:

Bangladesh is a small country that has huge political problems. There, our life is not safe. We are opposition political supporters and leaders of the ruling party want to kidnap, kill, and threaten us. As a result, we escaped our country to save our lives. We crossed the borders of several countries and we climbed lots of mountains without any food to get to U.S. immigration police and seek asylum, but unfortunately the Department of Homeland Security considers us terrorists, denies our bonds and our asylum. We have no criminal records; we have not committed any crimes in any countries. There is no security in our country and that is why we cannot go back.

Weathers, who continues to keep track of the former hunger strikers being transferred to other detention centers, possibly for the mass deportation, said that as an American citizen, she is “outraged” by the United States’ treatment of asylum seekers.

“Sadly, because of our current political climate, I think there will be a lot of indifference to this [mass deportation],” she said. “That’s a sad commentary on where we are as a country.”