In a rare occurrence, Sen. Bernie Sanders sat down publicly with undocumented immigrants to hear their concerns and discuss his Family First immigration platform.
During the discussion, a back and forth occurred between Jahed Ahmed, an asylum-seeker from Bangladesh who saw his friend killed in front of him because of their political involvement and who was part of hunger strikes that are facing increased retaliation as we speak.
Ahmed explained, “I owned a small shop and was a member of the Bangladesh National Party. One of my friends was killed in front of my eyes. I didn’t want to leave my home but I was forced to leave my country.
When I left my country I crossed 15 countries in my journey to get here. When I came to the border I claimed asylum and found myself in detention for 10 months and 13 days. All of us had credible fear findings but there was no way out and no way to fight our cases in detention.
When we saw others being deported we started a hunger strike. And it is only because of that that I am here and I bring you all their voices. I have two questions: alot of my friends are in El Paso Detention Center and they are deporting us…”
Sanders interrupted to ask what would happen if Ahmed was deported to Bangladesh. He responded, “If any of us were deported, we would be arrested, tortured, or possibly killed… Our hunger strike sparked many other hunger strikes which indicates the crisis of the system. In Alabama they are in the 12th day of their strike and they are facing retaliation and medical torture. Would you be willing to visit that center to see the conditions and hear what the solution would be from them on the inside?”
Sanders responded “I am interested in doing that but given my schedule I cannot promise when it would be. Beyond immigration reform we have a very broken immigration system. Many of those who are in jail, should not be in jail. That whole issue… is of great interest to me.”
Referring to four asylum-seekers who were put and then removed from deportation planes this weekend, Ahmed continued, “People are being deported right now. Would you be willing to call ICE now and inquire about their cases?” A request to which Sanders committed to and then commented, “Asylum is a historical and important part of civilized societies. It is about saying if a person cannot live in their own country because of political repression or death threats, other countries should be prepared to provide a secure home to protect that life.”
Fahd Ahmed, director of DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving who served as a translator for the event, responded, “There is an urgent crisis that Sen. Sanders and the other candidates have to fully respond to immediately. ICE is using torture to attempt to break the detainees’ hunger strike. They are enduring sleep deprivation, medical abuse, and solitary confinement and need immediate protection not just from their home countries but from the authorities in the US who are abusing them.”
In addition to the current hunger strike, the Senator was also asked about the omission of policies that address queer and transgender immigrants who face disproportionate abuse in ICE custody. Isa Noyola of the Transgender Law Center who watched the discussion via livestream reacted to the Senators pledge to improve his LGBTQ immigrant policy, “There is a leadership gap on immigration among elected officials that Sen. Sanders can fill. For the transgender immigrant community, the best act he could take would be to join the demand to free Christina Lopez and call for immediately ending trans detention so that not one more person faces the abuse and violence trans people experience in detention.”