The YouTube Weapon One Man's Virtual Fight against Deportation
A 19-year-old man was deported from the US, where he had lived most of his life, to Bangladesh along with his family in January. Now he is fighting to be allowed to return to Texas -- and his weapon of choice is YouTube.
The sparsely furnished room contains a bed, a closet and a desk with a laptop. It doesn't feel very welcoming. In fact, the room seems more like a temporary lodging, as if its occupant, Saad Nabeel, were merely passing through.
Saad, a thin, frustrated 19-year-old boy with a Beatle haircut, is sitting on the bed. He is waiting for the electricity to come on again after yet another power failure, so that he can start up his laptop and get back on the Internet. It's his connection to the United States and his old life -- a life that was significantly better than his current life in Bangladesh.
In his old life, Saad had friends and a scholarship, and he was attending college. In other words, he had a future. Here in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, Saad mostly has time -- plenty of time.
'I Ask You Guys for Your Help'
He uses his time to upload videos to the video-sharing website YouTube and other Internet sites. The videos feature him in this room, against a white wall, wearing a John Lennon T-shirt, videos that he hopes the whole world will see. In the videos, Saad talks about how much he wants to go home. He asks for help, and he asks people to contact him via Facebook. "I ask you guys for your help," he says, speaking English with an American accent. He still spends much of his time in the country where he once lived, except nowadays it's only virtually.
In return, he receives videos in which American teenagers talk about him. One of them is Emily, a young, blonde girl in a black tank top, who uses the screen name "firedancingrose." She talks about the calamity Saad has experienced, and she says that he should be allowed to come home. Saad Nabeel, a boy from Bangladesh, wants to go home, back to Frisco, Texas.
At the beginning of the year, Saad was living in Frisco with his parents, as an ambitious member of the American middle class, a model immigrant. His parents owned a house and two cars, and they both worked. They had left Bangladesh 15 years ago, when Saad was three years old. His father told him about the problems he had had with politicians, and about the persecution and threats that had prompted him to leave the country.
The family went to the United States and applied for political asylum, but after eight years the application was turned down and the US immigration authority informed the Nabeels that they were to leave the country immediately. Instead of complying with the request, Saad's father moved with his family from Los Angeles to Frisco, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. But it wasn't as if they had gone there to hide from the authorities. On the contrary, the parents bought a house there, found jobs and applied for a permanent residency permit, a Green Card. The American authorities did not intervene. By then Saad was 11 and had almost no memories left of Dhaka.
According to Saad, in late 2009 his father received a notice from the immigration authority stating that the family's Green Cards would be sent to them in January 2010. But before that happened, immigration officials suddenly showed up at the family's door, took the father to a detention facility and threatened to deport him. The family still doesn't know why. Saad's mother left Texas with her son, and the two embarked on an odyssey that lasted for several weeks and ended with deportation, marking the beginning of Saad's new life.
Mourning a Lost Life
It's usually quiet in Frisco, Texas, during the day, and it's always quiet at night. But it's never quiet in the apartment where Saad's family now lives in Dhaka. For one thing, the apartment is in the middle of an overcrowded city that's bursting at the seams, a place where 14 million people compete for every speck of affluence. But their flat also happens to be next to a construction site where workers are driving piles into the ground for a new building, using a pile driver with a motor that has no mufflers. The men do most of their work at night, when the air has cooled down.
In Frisco, there are no beggars on the side of the road, no cripples, no people with birth defects who extend their stumps, scars and grotesquely deformed bodies toward passers-by -- people like Saad, who dresses in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt. There are no women who hold up screaming, malnourished babies, and no old people on crutches, following the movements of anyone who appears to have money with their milky eyes. In Frisco, there is a stadium called the Pizza Hut Park and a Dr. Pepper Arena.
Saad could treat his time in Dhaka as an opportunity. Few people here are as well educated as he is. But he still mourns the loss of his life as an American, and for him, life in Bangladesh is an imposition, one that he seeks to avoid as much as possible. He doesn't go to school, he has no friends, he doesn't want to learn the language and he rarely goes outside -- and when he does, it is only with his cell phone in hand. He moves cautiously and hesitantly in the streets, as if he expects to be attacked at any moment.
'No Plan B'
As soon as he returns to his room, he sits down at his laptop and searches for new supporters on the Internet, broadcasting his troubles out into the world. An American girl, a member of the Republican Party, posts a video on YouTube. She says that he should be allowed to return to the United States, and that what they've done to him is unfair.
Saad hopes that by generating enough public pressure, by triggering a mass movement on the Internet, he will be able to return home. His cry for help on YouTube was viewed more than 10,000 times in the last four months. An attorney in New York is working on his case. But the latest news isn't good. His application for a student visa was denied. Now he is pinning his hopes on the New York attorney.
And what if it doesn't work? What if Saad Nabeel has to stay in Bangladesh? What's his plan B?
"That's easy," says Saad. "There is no plan B."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan