NEW YORK, N.Y. – When an immigrant from Bangladesh set off a bomb in New York City’s subway system this week, he was the only person injured. But New York City’s vibrant Bangladeshi community is worried that it, too, may ultimately get hurt by the attack.
Within hours of the blast, President Donald Trump was assailing the immigration system that had allowed the alleged bomber — and multitudes of law-abiding Bangladeshis — to enter the U.S.
Akayed Ullah, 27, got an entry visa in 2011 because he had an uncle who was already a U.S. citizen. Trump said allowing foreigners to follow relatives to the U.S. was “incompatible with national security.” He pledged to work toward a system that would give preference instead to people who had wealth or special skills.
That promised policy change struck a sour note with some Bangladeshis in the Brooklyn neighbourhood where Ullah lived.
“If Trump is going to stop immigration visas, that’s not good for our Bangladeshi people,” said Fazlul Karim, 45, a livery car driver. “Because some people are waiting for their families — citizens who apply for their wives, children who are missing their father. So if they cannot come here, it’s going to be very sad. We are afraid.”
Kamal Bhuiyan, chairman of the Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, said it would be unfair to hold the entire community responsible for the actions of one person.
“Those who commit crimes, they do not believe in God and they don’t belong to anybody,” Bhuiyan said. “They don’t belong to Bangladeshis nor anybody else around the world. They are themselves.”
According to the U.S. Census’ 2016 American Community Survey, there are about 90,000 Bangladeshis in New York City, out of a nationwide population of about 234,000. It is a relatively new immigration group. Two thirds of New York’s Bangladeshis arrived in the U.S. after 2000; 38 per cent arrived in just the last seven years.
While the Bangladeshi community isn’t as large as other ethnic groups in the city, it has made its presence felt. Bangladeshis make up nearly a quarter of all taxi drivers, according to city statistics. Bangladeshis also have an outsized presence in the New York Police Department’s traffic enforcement division, making up around 15 per cent of the city’s traffic agents, according to a union estimate.
In a sign of the increasing numbers of Bangladeshi immigrants coming to the U.S., they are no longer eligible for the diversity visa lottery, which is open to countries that have seen low immigration to the United States. Bangladesh was eligible until 2013.
Ullah lived in a neighbourhood that is home to one of the city’s largest pockets of Bangladeshis, but is also home to large numbers of Russians, Mexicans and Ukrainians. He recently lived in a multi-ethnic apartment building on the same floor as some Jewish families. On the main commercial street in the neighbourhood this week, women pushing strollers on the main commercial street wore headscarves. Men gathered separately in eateries that serve low-cost meals while watching Bangladeshi television news and sports.
It wasn’t clear what prompted Ullah, who had a wife and child in Bangladesh, to turn against his adopted country.
Prosecutors said he started to become radicalized in 2014 and began researching how to build a bomb after watching Islamic State propaganda materials online.
Investigators in Bangladesh said Ullah’s wife had said he’d asked her to listen to the sermons of Moulana Jasimuddin Rahmani, the currently imprisoned leader of a group that has been linked to killings and attacks on secular academics and bloggers.
Bangladesh has a largely secular legal structure, but recently has been dealing with a rise in radicalism. In July 2016, 20 people were killed when members of a domestic militant group used gunfire and grenades to attack a popular restaurant.
In the last year, dozens of suspects have been killed in an intensified crackdown on Islamic militants by the government.
The Trump administration this fall barred most citizens of several, mostly-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. on national security grounds. Bangladesh is not among them, but the attack prompted fears among Bangladeshis that they could be added to this list.
Even if it is not, Queens resident Syed Ullah, 76, said he worried Trump’s rhetoric could still lead to bureaucratic slow-downs of applications for travel visas.
“He is the chief of the country,” said Ullah, who is not related to the bombing suspect. “If he says something like that, the immigration authorities, the State Department, the embassies, they will put hurdles in the way.”
Ullah is awaiting trial on federal terrorism-related charges. He faces up to life in prison.
Follow Verena Dobnik on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/verenachirps . Deepti Hajela covers issues of race, ethnicity and immigration for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dhajela. For more of their work, search for their names at https://apnews.com .