Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has sparked backlash and controversy with his proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States—including refugees and asylum seekers. But deporting Muslim asylum seekers is nothing new. This week, the Obama administration deported 85 Muslim asylum seekers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal who were seeking asylum after fleeing repression and violence in their home countries. Some of the men deported from Corrections Corporations of America’s Florence Correctional Center in Arizona on Sunday night had participated in a series of hunger strikes last year to protest their ongoing detention by ICE, the Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency, and demand their release from for-profit detention centers. Some of the men have been detained for years. Following the deportation, an ICE official told Democracy Now!: “All of those on last weekend’s flight had been provided the opportunity to present their cases in immigration court, were issued final orders of removal, and had no outstanding stays that would prohibit their removal.” We are joined by Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up & Moving, or DRUM, a New York-based organization of South Asian immigrant workers and youth. After the deportation, Ahmed said, “The Obama administration just deported nearly 100 South Asian detainees who crossed three continents seeking safety in the U.S. What happens to them next is blood on his hands.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has sparked backlash and controversy with his proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States, including refugees and asylum seekers. But deporting Muslim asylum seekers is nothing new. This week, the Obama administration deported 85 Muslim asylum seekers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal who were seeking asylum after fleeing repression and violence in their home countries. After the deportation, U.S.-based immigration advocates and the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh arranged for media coverage of the arrival of the 27 Bangladeshi nationals at Shahjalal International Airport Tuesday night in Dhaka. One of the asylum seekers described the deportation experience.
BANGLADESHI DEPORTEE 1: [translated] The American Homeland Security has forcefully thrown into the plane those who do not want to come back. The detainees were tied with blankets.
BANGLADESHI DEPORTEE 2: [translated] Brother, it was not the regular blanket that people use regularly. It was security blanket. If they tie you with that kind of blanket, you will get no ability to move or free yourself. We were unable to breathe, like being choked to death.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Some of the men deported from Corrections Corporation of America’s Florence Correctional Center in Arizona on Sunday night had participated in a series of hunger strikes last year to protest their ongoing detention by ICE, the Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency, and demand their release from for-profit detention centers. Some of the men had been detained for years.
AMY GOODMAN: Following the deportation, an ICE official told Democracy Now!, quote, “All of those on last weekend’s flight had been provided the opportunity to present their cases in immigration court, were issued final orders of removal, and had no outstanding stays that would prohibit their removal.”
In response, Fahd Ahmed, the executive director of Desis Rising Up & Moving, or DRUM, said, quote, “The Obama administration just deported nearly 100 South Asian detainees who crossed three continents seeking safety in the U.S. What happens to them next is blood on his hands.”
Well, for more, we’re joined by Fahd Ahmed. He is the executive director of DRUM, the New York-based organization of South Asian immigrant workers and youth.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what just took place, this mass deportation.
FAHD AHMED: So, this deportation is of South Asian detainees, of South Asian migrants who are escaping violence in their home countries. And they came here, as you mentioned, crossing three borders, crossing 14, 15, 16 different countries, only to end up in detention, in prolonged, endless detention. And while ICE says that these people had opportunities to present their cases, and they did go before courts, the reality is that nobody crosses 14 borders with an asylum packet in hand. Nobody gathers the evidence that they need for an asylum claim and then takes on a journey across a dozen countries. But when you end up in detention, it makes it impossible for you to be able to mount your case properly. And what we’ve seen is that the prolonged detention of these detainees was strongly influenced, that there’s strong concerns of discrimination as South Asians and as Muslims. And that’s the reason that they undertook the hunger strikes, was to bring light to the fact that they were being detained indefinitely.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to turn to another clip of the Bangladeshi media interviewing deportees shortly after they arrived at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka. One man spoke of the difficulty in trying to get asylum in the U.S.
BANGLADESHI DEPORTEE 3: [translated] Whatever papers or evidence you show them, they won’t believe you. They said they wouldn’t grant us political asylum. After telling us these things, they denied our appeals. Later, they asked us to sign papers and said, if we sign the papers, we would be released in three months or six months, if the embassy doesn’t issue travel documents.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Bangladeshi deportees also allege inhumane treatment while they were in detention in the U.S.
BANGLADESHI DEPORTEE 4: [translated] They kept us only in the prison. Not only they kept us detained, even we were kept tied to hands and legs with each other. Everyone was tied. We were tied for three days. Some of them were put in the body bags, which are used for dead bodies. At least 2,000 to 3,000 Bangladeshis are still imprisoned in U.S. jails.
BANGLADESHI DEPORTEE 3: [translated] They tied my hands to my waist with chains. I was also chained to my legs. They didn’t feed us for the whole journey. We have never seen such horror in our life.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your response? And also, did many of these deportees, while they were going through their asylum claims, have any kind of legal representation?
FAHD AHMED: Some of them had legal representation. But as often happens in detention centers, you have a little bit of money, you get whatever attorney is available. And attorneys often do take advantage of people that are detained, because they know they don’t have a whole lot of leverage. So people will take money and then not show up to court cases or just only do a—you know, not do a really good job of representing them. But these detainees were in areas in Alabama, in Texas, in areas where they didn’t have access to attorneys that spoke their languages or that understood the conditions, the country conditions that they were coming from, and so it made it very difficult.
But then, on top of that, as one of the deportees was mentioning, these cases were strongly colored with the influence of national security concerns. So, the Bangladeshis, most of their cases were denied because they said they were affiliated with the Bangladesh National Party, which is the main opposition party in Bangladesh. They were in power; the U.S. government had great relations with them just a few years ago. And now, as a result of the internal politics in Bangladesh, some sections of Department of Homeland Security are labeling them as a Tier III terrorist organization, which has no basis. The State Department denies that designation. No other branch of government acknowledges them as a terrorist organization.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of these people were put into body bags?
FAHD AHMED: Yes. So, you know, the amount of torture that happens, in detention and in the process that they’re deported, is endless. When they were on hunger strikes, they were being forcibly catheterized. They got force-feeding orders against them. And then, as they were being deported, they were tied up and put into body bags.
AMY GOODMAN: Like for corpses.
FAHD AHMED: Yes. They were forcibly injected with tranquilizers. So many of them were beaten. The first clip that you showed, if you look at the detainee speaking there, he has a knot above his eye, because he’s been beaten up, even in the process of deportation.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did they get them to put them in detention before they deported them? Did they raid their homes? Did they pick them up off the street? What states were they in here in the U.S.?
FAHD AHMED: No, so, these are all people that came across the border. These are people that landed in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, and then walked, hitchhiked, boated their way through jungles, through rivers, all the way up to the U.S.-Mexico border, and turned themselves in, claiming asylum. And after, you know, doing the proper intake, rather than being released to their communities or to their families, they continued to be held in detention—for six months, for one year, for one-and-a-half year. And it’s around when they got to the one-and-a-half- to two-year mark is when they undertook the hunger strikes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And there have been some members of Congress who have been protesting or demanding explanations for what’s going on?
FAHD AHMED: So, we’ve had support from Congressman Crowley, Congressperson Judy Chu and Mike Honda, that have really taken on these cases, because they see the travesty of it. You know, there was the—while the hunger strike was happening in El Paso, ICE brought in representatives from the Bangladeshi government to come and break the hunger strike. It is illegal to allow representatives of the same government that you’re seeking asylum from to be exposed to asylum seekers. And so, those investigations were still going on. Those people had now even more elevated cases of danger if they’re sent back, but also had options to reopen their cases, and those people got deported. And a lot of the congresspeople are honing in on these things around the DHS’s just ramshod deporting people.
AMY GOODMAN: Fahd, we only have 30 seconds, but DRUM, your organization, organized a protest outside Hillary Clinton’s offices. Why?
FAHD AHMED: So we’ve been trying to bring this issue to light. You know, as rightly talked about, Donald Trump’s dreams are now a Obama reality. And we want to know what the candidates think of this and what actions are they willing to take. If they really want to demonstrate leadership, they should undertake actions to speak up for these people, to protect these people. The Clinton campaign was nonresponsive. The Sanders campaign issued a statement after some time. But we’re still yet to see real leadership from either one of the Democratic Party candidates.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, and we thank you so much for being with us, but we will continue to follow this issue. Fahd Ahmed is executive director of DRUM, Desis Rising Up & Moving, a New York-based group of South Asian immigrant workers and youth.