U.S. Border Patrol officers patrolling the Rio Grande Valley in Texas last month came across four illegal immigrants who had crossed the Rio Grand River.
It was a routine scene that is played out daily along the U.S.-Mexican border except for one thing — the migrants were not from Mexico or even Central America. They were from the other side of the Earth, Bangladesh.
The arrests brought the total of Bangladeshis arrested at the border in the fiscal year that began October 1 to 188, nearly all of them arrested in the Laredo sector. That exceeds the total number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh arrested in the United States in all of fiscal year 2017.
“It goes to show that our agents are arresting people from all over the world on a daily basis,” Laredo Sector Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Gabriel Acosta said in a statement. “Their intentions for entering the country illegally can only be determined after they have been arrested.”
Some national security experts say the apprehensions of people from a country with a strong jihadist movement raises serious safety concerns.
But it also highlights a startling fact: Border Patrol officers are more likely to encounter illegal immigrants along the southwest boundary who come from countries other than Mexico than they are to come into contact with people from that country.
In fiscal year 2017, the Border Patrol apprehended 127,938 Mexicans along the southwest border but arrested 175,978 illegal immigrants from other countries. In fiscal year 2008, by contrast, more than nine in 10 illegal immigrants nabbed by the Border Patrol were Mexicans.
Much of that change is due to a combination of a marked decline in illegal immigration from Mexico and a surge in border-crossers who make the journey from Central America.
But more people from far-flung countries all over the world are tying to get into the United States by way of Mexico.
Federal government statistics from all Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies offer a picture of that change. While total apprehensions of illegal immigrants declined 45 percent from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2016, arrests of illegal immigrants from Asia jumped 67 percent.
“It’s not a big number, but we’re starting to see a lot more,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Borer Patrol Council.
Judd said it is no coincidence that the recent border-crossers from Bangladesh all came to the Laredo area. He said that is a good indication that a smuggling organization based near there on the Mexican side of the border has gained a foothold in Bangladesh.
|Illegal immigrants caught at southwest border|
Source: Department of Homeland Security
And that, Judd added, is one of the reasons why more non-Mexicans have been coming to the border.
“Throughout the world right now, you have smuggling organizations that are advertising their services,” he said.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), agreed that smuggling organizations have branched out.
“The smugglers are much more active now and have something to offer people from Bangladesh,” she said. “The smugglers know the vulnerabilities now from the experiences of the Central Americans.”
The Rio Grande Valley is a good place for smugglers to target, Vaughan said. There is no fence along the border near Laredo, and the river is narrow, she said. What’s more, she added, there are a couple of suburban neighborhoods near the river where border-crossers can evade Border Patrol officers.
Vaughan said that many foreigners from other continents travel first to Ecuador, which does not require travel visas. From there, migrants from Asia and Africa make the same northern journey that Central Americans make in far larger numbers every day.
“It’s not like it’s any secret that our southern border is an area of vulnerability. Pretty much everybody knows that.”
Vaughan said the number of illegal immigrants from other continents entering the United States through Mexico is likely to grow as President Donald Trump continues to implement “extreme vetting.” She said that in previous years, the Bangladeshis caught last month in Laredo may have simply flown to the United States and remained past the point when they were supposed to go home.
But it has become harder to do that, Vaughan said.
“Visa have gotten harder to get,” she said. “They’re not granting them at the same rates … There probably is more scrutiny of people coming from Bangladesh — rightly so.”
Some experts argue that Americans should be concerned about more than migrant workers. The loose border also offers an opportunity for people with violent intentions, they say.
A Bangladeshi man who came to the United States in 2011, for instance, stands accused of trying to detonate a bomb at the New York City Port Authority Bus Terminal in December 2017. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, an Islamic terrorism group that has committed several acts of international terrorism, has been active in Pakistan and Bangladesh since the 1990s.
Kyle Shidler, direction of the threat assessment office at the Center for Security Policy, said the concerns go far beyond Bangladesh.
“A lot of countries are the ones where you’d have concern about terrorism,” he said.
Shideler said those security and terrorism issues offer one more reason why the United States should seal the border.
“It’s not like it’s any secret that our southern border is an area of vulnerability,” he said. “Pretty much everybody knows that.”