LAREDO, Texas – They're coming from half a world away in record numbers, traveling more than 8,800 miles from Bangladesh to Laredo.
So, why are Bangladeshi nationals trying to enter the United States illegally through Laredo?
It's a question U.S. Border Patrol officials said they're trying to figure out following the arrests of 515 Bangladeshi nationals in 2018, up from 182 arrests in 2017 and only one arrest in 2016.
In the past week, seven Bangladeshi nationals were arrested in the Laredo area, Border Patrol officials said.
The Laredo Sector accounts for 62 percent of apprehensions of Bangladeshi nationals, the highest among all Border Patrol sectors, officials said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, said Bangladeshis pay smugglers up to $27,000 to get them across the Rio Grande River.
"That's why you're seeing an increase in people coming in, because there are routes that you can come into the United States," Cuellar said.
Border Patrol officials said the routes are controlled by transnational criminal organizations in Mexico that have reported ties to Bangladesh.
"So the people that are being smuggled don't choose where they're going to cross. That's determined by the smuggling organizations," a Border Patrol official said.
Border Patrol officials said the agency tries to guard against terrorists hidden among those fleeing political and civil unrest.