The cries of children in cold, overcrowded facilities are in stark contrast to the foundational American values that once embraced all, promoting “the land of opportunities,” “the home of the free”—which seem like cruel ironies in today’s situation. Contrary to the conspiratorial creed that President Trump has ushered in fear-mongering videos and Twitter antics of the grand caravan, with “unknown middle easterners” (which he later admitted was an uncorroborated claim), the bell ringing on America is actually immigration reform, with revised policies. Though accountability for the current humanitarian crisis (rightly) hangs on Donald Trump’s dizzying back-and-forth presidential decisions, it’s not only an American national issue but rather a major international one, which requires a unified action from all nations involved.
On June 25, 2019, researchers from Human Rights Watch published an opinion piece on CNN with a self-explanatory title—“We Went to a US Border Detention Center. What We Saw Was Horrible.” The situation outlined is harrowing: “Many, including children as young as 2 or 3, have been separated from adult caretakers without any provisions for their care besides the unrelated older children also being held in detention.” The conditions are worse: “jail-like border facilities for weeks at a time without contact with family members, regular access to showers, clean clothes, toothbrushes, or proper beds.” The neglect is in violation of Flores settlement that mandates safe conditions for children held in border patrol. Bad news is not at a dead end, however. Recently, judges in a San Francisco Federal Court Hearing lambasted the Trump administration’s insistence that being able to merely sleep meets the Flores safety requirement. It’s reassuring that the justice system might pursue what’s humane, as the Senate, Congress, Republicans and Democrats scramble at each other’s necks, delay immigration reform, and engulf news coverage.
A somewhat lesser known facet of the crisis is actually occurring in the Southern border of Mexico and Central America, increasingly used as a layover by refugees from all around the world, hoping to reach the US. In April this year, The Washington Times wrote: “thousands fleeing poverty or conflict in Nigeria, Cameron, Bangladesh, Haiti, and Cuba have travelled across oceans, through the jungles and mountains of South America, on a route that—so far—ends here: the steamy crumbling Mexican city of Tapachula near the Guatemalan border.” It’s jarring to see Bangladesh, farthest in distance, even enlisted here. The foreign ministry in Bangladesh needs to look into this disturbing revelation. It’s imperative to flesh out what internal conflict and specific circumstances are pushing young children to travel to the other side of the world.
An exposé exclusively on undocumented Bangladeshi children at the US border was published in Vice News on April 30, 2019, where it was revealed that in 2018, officials in Customs and Border Patrol witnessed the highest influx of illegal immigration in a year from our nation. They apprehended more than 1,200 Bangladeshi undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the United States, more than double the 574 who entered in 2017. Young Bangladeshi migrants have consequently been targeted with strident scrutiny, and burdened with legally unwarranted procedures from the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the US. Each journey detailed in the report is unbelievably perilous, and the routes they’ve taken should be investigated by Bangladesh officials to stem the tide of illegal migration. One migrant narrated that he had flown from Dhaka to Sao Paulo, Brazil, then travelled by bus to Peru, where he took a boat to Ecuador, and reached Colombia, sometimes by walking, other times using buses. Whether he had flown to Brazil on a valid visa in the first place is unknown. After reaching the Panama River, he swam across it, lost all of his documents and clothing and nearly drowned. He then travelled by bus to Costa Rica, took a taxi to Nicaragua, and finally travelled across Honduras and Guatemala and into Mexico.
The report also illuminates the case of a teenage Bangladeshi boy, “I.H.” (who asked to be identified only by his initials); he arrived in the US in September last year, after his parents were allegedly targeted for political associations. He was admitted to a migrant shelter in Arizona where he was fed well and attending classes. Then one day in October, the staff took him to a dental exam (he didn’t know what it was for) to determine his age in one of the most highly questionable techniques. I.H. had a birth certificate confirming that he was a minor, but an official in the US government’s refugee office had warned the staff that approximately 145 Bangladeshi migrants might be posing as minors. Falsifying birth certificates and passports is, in fact, common among illegal immigrants everywhere. The uptick in these happenings should galvanise Bangladesh law enforcement to monitor and ensure fake documents aren’t pursued for illegal immigration schemes.
The officials in Office of Refugee Resettlement used the dental forensics as evidence to label I.H. as an adult (which is strictly illegal), and immediately shifted him to a detention centre with three other Bangladeshi children. In I.H.’s case, the dental report was used as evidence to prove he’s an adult, but in many other children’s cases, the dental evidence suggested they were minors but officials placed them in adult detention centres anyway. Placing minors in adult facilities is a crime that is being committed far too often, but one that largely affects a child’s immigration options and in turn decides their future. Deemed as “adult migrants,” these children can spend months in detention centres, or jail, without an attorney, whereas minors have access to the attorneys and are released in the least restrictive environment possible (as it should be).
Undoubtedly, the United States, in its current turmoil, is not the way out of misery; rather, it’s a solidification of perpetual hardship. While the US should be called out for its ill-treatment of child immigrants, we are talking about helpless refugees whose life-threatening state has been rendered by the situation in their home countries. So to clarify, instead of taking measures to polish how our nation “looks” on the world map, Bangladesh should stand for children and young adults—desperate human beings in abject poverty—who are fleeing to foreign lands, because they cannot find any solutions here. Bangladesh and every other nation where this is happening have a responsibility to ensure the citizens are safe, just as much as the United States should safeguard righteous treatment of asylum-seekers arriving at their borders.
Ramisa Rob is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Follow The Daily Star Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions, commentaries and analyses by experts and professionals.
To contribute your article or letter to The Daily Star Opinion, see our guidelines for submission.