The South Asian Face of Detention

Quick question. Who has been detained by the U.S. government?

A. A Nepali poet who came to visit the U.S. carrying a few copies of his books.

B. An Indian man diagnosed with schizophrenia who has lived in the U.S. since he was 12.

C. A HIV+ Pakistani man who has a green card and lived in New York City for 30 years.

D. All of the above.

The answer? All of the above. Odds are, if I were to say “South Asians” and “detention”, most people would think “Guantanamo.” After years of public outcry about the treatment of Arab and South Asian detainees at the prison in Cuba, President Obama took the groundbreaking and long overdue step earlier this year of announcing the facility’s closure by 2010. But, this got me thinking … what would the community do if they knew about immigrant detention of South Asians in facilities right here in the U.S.? 

Pradeep is a poet from Nepal who was arrested and detained for months right after he arrived at Newark Airport in New Jersey, all because immigration officials thought he was going to sell his books while on a tourist visa in the United States. Harvey is a 52-year-old man from India, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. During college, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which prevented him from making appointments with immigration officials. He was later arrested for a crime and was tossed between mental institutions and immigration detention centers before being deported. And Ali is Pakistani-born HIV+ gay man, after committing a minor crime, was placed in immigration detention where he is frequently abused and fights for his medication. You can see Ali’s story captured by Breakthrough here:



These individuals have different stories, different backgrounds, and different paths. But they all share a common experience with the more than 300,000 immigrants who have been detained in 2008. Detainees are often denied much-needed medical care, torn apart from family members, and even held in actual jails. Policies are needed to ensure that those caught up in the immigration system are treated with humanity and dignity. Last week, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard from California introduced the “Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act” which specifically improves detainees’ access to telephones and medical care as well as promotes alternatives to detention. This bill is a vital first step towards protecting the rights of all immigrants who may end up in detention, including those like Ali, Harvey, and Pradeep.