LAREDO, Texas – The U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector reported an unprecedented number of Bangladeshi nationals crossing the Rio Grande River over the past year.
The agency reported 668 in fiscal year 2018, yet only one in 2017.
Most undocumented immigrants try to get away from his agents, said Felix Chavez, chief border agent of the Laredo Sector.
"Bangladeshi nationals are the exception," Chavez said.
Most of the adult men between ages 18 to 35 traveling in small groups have given themselves up to Border Patrol agents, asking for asylum, he said.
Agents believe most understand English, Chavez said, but they don't speak it. He said the agency relies on a professional translating service to communicate with them.
People from more than 140 countries have arrived at the border over the past year, Chavez said.
Timothy J. Tubbs, deputy special agent in charge with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, said "special interest alien smuggling" is just one example of the kind of illegal activity that's part of a "very complex, worldwide network."
Transnational criminal organizations, Tubbs said, "recruit" those immigrants in their home countries. He said individuals who work for TCOs are then responsible for getting travel documents -- genuine or fraudulent -- and transportation or smuggling fees, many paid along the way.
"They'll have nationals from those countries strategically located throughout the route," Tubbs said.
A Bangladeshi national recently charged in 16 cases, Tubbs said, is accused of using a hotel in Monterrey as a stash house and paying drivers to transport the Bangladeshis to the border.
By then, Tubbs said, they've primarily traveled by plane from Bangladesh to Turkey or Ethiopia, leaving that hemisphere on direct flights to countries such as Brazil or Ecuador, on opposite sides of South America.
Tubbs said smugglers look for countries with "friendly" visa requirements or corrupt officials to gain illegal entry. From there, he said they travel by land through Central America to Mexico until they reach the Rio Grande River between Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and south Laredo, Texas.
Tubbs said TCOs prefer paying cartels to use their drug smuggling routes that are "more successful and less dangerous to individuals." He that's why they come through Nuevo Laredo.
"It's not the same as other border towns," Tubbs said.
He said other border towns are still seeing levels of narco-violence.
To come from an impoverished, densely populated country that borders India, Tubbs said, Bangladeshi nationals pay smugglers $27,000 each. He said they are closely vetted as to their identities and why they came.
Tubbs said Bangladesh has "organizations that are of interest to the United States," but he can't say whether those who've arrived in Laredo have any possible terrorist ties. He said the U.S. government works with foreign counterparts to find out who the arrivals are, since any passports or travel documents they had with them have been destroyed.
"Those are obviously concerns," Tubbs said.