Saad Nabeel is afraid to leave his apartment. He lives in a small apartment with his parents in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But Nabeel doesn’t know anything about Bangladesh. He doesn’t speak Bengali, the country’s official language, or understand Dhaka’s local culture. Even its laws are a mystery to him. Because Nabeel looks and acts American, he feels that if he were to go out alone he could be kidnapped for ransom, something that happens fairly often in Bangladesh.
“I am American in every way,” Nabeel says—well, not quite every way. Nabeel is an undocumented immigrant, one of 2.1 million young people who entered the United States as children and face the threat of deportation to a country they barely know. Nabeel and the other undocumented immigrants could benefit from proposed legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship.
Born in Bangladesh in 1991, Nabeel moved to the United States with his family at the age of 3. His father, Mohammad Tarique, then applied for political asylum. Tarique was repeatedly denied asylum, but he continued appealing to higher courts. In 2002, when Nabeel was 11 years old, Nabeel’s father reached the end of the appeals process, and immigration officials told him he needed to leave the country. But instead of leaving, Nabeel’s family moved to Frisco, Texas, a Dallas suburb. There, Nabeel’s father began the process of applying for a green card, the alien permanent resident ID card. They were scheduled to be approved in January 2010.
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Meanwhile, Nabeel thrived in Texas. He graduated from Liberty High School in 2009 and accepted a full scholarship to the University of Texas–Arlington to study electrical engineering. In November 2009, Nabeel’s father called immigration officials asking to extend their stay by two months, until the arrival of their green card in January.
“The deportation officer decided, instead of giving him two more months of time, that he would deport our family. Two immigration officers came to our home and took my dad to jail,” Nabeel says, adding that he was at his apartment on campus when his mother called to tell him they had to leave Texas as soon as possible. He and his family packed up and left within five hours.
They headed to the Canadian border, where they hoped to obtain refugee status. Nabeel’s mother has an uncle in the country, but immigration officials refused because the three did not give matching answers to questions proving their relationship. Nabeel and his mother were placed in legal custody, where he remained until Jan. 4, 2010.
“I was forced to sign a paper saying that I cannot return to the USA for 10 years. If I refused to sign, I would be criminally charged and kept in prison,” Nabeel says. Nabeel and his family were deported to Bangladesh in January.
The family’s green cards have since arrived, but because of the 10-year ban, Nabeel is not allowed back into the United States. His parents are focused on getting Nabeel out of the country as soon as possible.
Nabeel says he did not ask for this situation. “I have been forced to live with my parents for the majority of my life, otherwise I would have left the nation a long time ago by myself, had I known I would have been sent to jail,” he says. “I was forced to be an illegal immigrant because I could not leave my parents. I have no criminal record. Because I tried to achieve something great, I was sent to jail and then to a country I know nothing of. I have lost everything I’ve ever loved.”
While he was forced to return to Bangladesh, Nabeel, his parents and many supporters in the United States continue to fight for his return. Ralph Isenberg, an immigration activist in the Dallas area, has been working with Nabeel after reading about his case. Isenberg has proposed an amendment to the DREAM Act that would allow Nabeel and other students deported the chance to return to the United States. If passed, the amendment, which was presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, would allow students who had been deported in the past three years the ability to re-enter the United States for their education.
Sparked by this case, Isenberg says changing the law to cover all young people in situations similar to Nabeel’s may be the best way to get him back into the United States.
“The strongest case is to have everyone benefit, so that everyone can come back legitimately,” Isenberg says, adding that there are many more stories like Nabeel’s.
“These stories are not unique,” he says. “There are not hundreds but thousands of these cases going on across the United States.”
If the amendment were passed, a special visa would need to be implemented, because many of those who would benefit have been banned from re-entering the United States. To be eligible for re-entry under the proposed amendment, students would have to prove they entered the United States before the age of 10; completed middle school and high school with good grades; were enrolled full-time in a high school or institution of higher education when deported; and have no criminal record. They would also need to show that they were accepted to an institution of higher education using in-state qualifications; prove they have the financial ability to live in the United States; and meet all other requirements of the DREAM Act.
As for Nabeel, he waits for good news. Despite being disappointed over his deportation, he says he is trying to get back home. “I am desperately trying to figure out a plan as to how to go back to America since it is the only country that I know as my home. It is the only place that I love,” he says.