FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 17, 2019
Jasvir Singh and Rajandeep Singh were released from the Otero County Processing Center last week almost three months after initial reports that they were among nine Sikh men on hunger strike whom ICE agents were force feeding in the El Paso Service Processing Center.
El Paso and Las Cruces based community groups and national advocacy organizations launched a coordinated campaign to demand ICE cease force feeding and release the men.
ICE released both men on bond after consistent pressure from local Rep. Veronica Escobar’s office and local and national advocates, and days after a Congressional Delegation from the House Committee on Homeland Security visited and toured facilities in El Paso where they examined immigration policies and operations along our southern border.
Three of the men who had originally been among the nine on hunger strike remain in detention. While on hunger strike at EPSPC they reported regular physical, verbal, and psychological abuse at the hands of facility guards.
Jasvir and Rajandeep sustained a hunger strike for nearly 80 days to protest their conditions and treatment in detention. They had been held in the EPSPC since November 2018. Initially they were part of a group of 13 men in the EPSPC, ten from India and three from Cuba, who began hunger striking at the end of December.
Four of the men taking part in the hunger strike were deported and returned to India in early March. A fifth man who agreed to stop his hunger strike in January in return for much needed surgery, was also deported.
Jennifer Apodaca of the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee who led advocacy efforts in El Paso said, “ICE always had the discretion to release people but refused to use it. It shouldn’t have taken an angry congressional delegation to secure their release. Instead, they continue to ignore the complaints of abuse and torture and turn a blind eye at the conditions of detention and prison spaces that house more than 52,000 people as they await their fate in our broken and biased immigration courts. All of this could have been avoided. It is time to abolish the detention and deportation machine. “
Nathan Craig from Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) visited the hunger strikers regularly in the El Paso facility. He said, “From their initial asylum requests, to their treatment while hunger striking, to their various hearings, all of these men experienced substantial discrimination based on the language they speak and the way they dress. Unfounded value judgements by and prejudices from U.S. government officials and contractors resulted in significant negative consequences for these men’s asylum claims. Inadequate, or complete lack of, interpretation was a chronic problem. All of the men told me about how they were subjected to frequent racial and ethnic slurs while detained. Sadly, more than the facts of their cases, these men’s asylum claims have been structured by prejudice on the part of immigration officials and their contractors. This must change. Wrongdoing at all stages of the process must be investigated. Justice must be brought for those men still in the US, and those men already deported must be afforded the opportunity to return to the US to pursue justice for what is widely recognized as torturous treatment in detention.”
Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national advocacy organization for South Asians that led national advocacy efforts said, “We are relieved that Jasvir and Rajandeep have finally been released, but it should not have taken this long. And, we remain deeply concerned for the three men who remain in detention – we fear they could be deported back to India and into the dangerous conditions they fled. We also know there are thousands more people housed in detention facilities across the country, suffering from the same litany of abuse and due process violations that our government refuses to acknowledge and address. It is clear that our nation’s entire understanding of detention must be overhauled. As a start, we need Congress to pass legislation that will hold facilities accountable with penalties and even the threat of shutting down for their repeated patterns of noncompliance.”
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