Recently, more than 80 asylum seekers–originally from Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh–in the United States were deported back to their home countries. This will not be the only instance of deportations of South Asians this year. Not1More, an organization that focuses on fair and humane immigration policy, announced that U.S. federal immigration authorities and the State Department are sending South Asian detainees to Florence, Arizona to prepare for possible mass deportations.
Many of the asylum seekers that are originally from Bangladesh are Muslims that face great and imminent danger if they return due to their prior affiliations with controversial political parties in their homeland. The number of Bangladeshi detainees range from 2,000 to 3,000 people.
A large number of the detainees from India are Sikh. These people face harm upon their return because of the current instability and unrest in the Punjab region of India.
It is no surprise that this issue has not been at the forefront of mainstream media because of the election, but these hidden and quick choices to deport these people are a result of the United States’ increasing dialogue surrounding Islamophobia. Sikhs are also affected by the consequences of Islamophobia because of the constant conflation of the two religious identities.
Non-profit organizations are at the front line of addressing this issue. Desis Rising Up & Moving, (DRUM)–a New York-based group of South Asian immigrant workers and youth–sought support from other non-profits, such as Not1More and MPower Change, in their initiatives. Fahd Ahmed, executive director of DRUM, has been organizing with these other non-profits to increase social media attention on this issue.
“It is alarming that the State Department is getting involved in matters of immigration, detention, and deportation, and so recklessly jeopardizing the lives of asylum-seeking migrants who are escaping repressive and dangerous conditions,” Ahmed told reporters.
Linda Sarsour, director of MPower Change and executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, also condemned the State Department’s actions.
“While many have rightfully condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric spewed during ongoing presidential campaigns, our current policies are just as terrifying. We call on the State Department and DHS to immediately halt these deportations and for administration officials to end these policies that single out Muslim migrants,” Sarsour told Not1More.
#Deported2Death, #Not1More, and #Freedomgiving started trending to show support for these detainees and asylum seekers. Along with these hashtags, some asylum seekers participated in a hunger strike that lasted for a week. The hunger strike ended due to the intervention of the Bangladeshi Consul General.
According to Not1More, a detained asylum seeker, who goes by the name Manik, told reporters that many asylum seekers are being gathered from different jails and it appears that no one wants to return. Manik is scheduled to be deported soon as well.
Recently, the real names of many asylum seekers were released publicly, and this puts them into greater danger upon their return. Their exposure will make their transition back in their native country almost impossible.
Recently, politicians have expressed concern about these deportations. Last month, Congressman Joseph Crowley expressed his opposition in a statement written to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.
“I have been contacted by members of the Bangladeshi-American community who believe a group of Bangladeshi individuals with legitimate claims of asylum are in imminent danger of deportation,” Crowley wrote. “I respectfully urge you to stop these deportations until there can be thorough assessments of the asylum claims.”
Congressman Mike Honda and Congresswoman Judy Chu followed Crowley and also sent in letters of concern and opposition to Johnson.
These were not the only politicians that weighed in on this issue. On March 30th, seven asylum seekers protested outside of Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. Her campaign expressed sympathy and an urgency for humane immigration policies, but they did not condemn the Obama administration’s actions.
A few days later, Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders sent a joint letter with Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva to Johnson chastising the current process of the Immigration Enforcement Program.
Politicians, non-profit organizations, and communities are continuing to push the Department of Homeland Security to re-assess these decisions through engaging with the mass media, petitioning, protesting, and collaborating with grassroots organizations.
Written by Rajaa Elidrissi