Notorious El Paso Facility Continues Abuse of South Asian Asylum Seekers

Jan­u­ary 31, 2019

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) is deeply dis­turbed by reports of staff at the El Paso, TX deten­tion pro­cess­ing cen­ter force-feed­ing most­ly Indi­an and Cuban detainees in the midst of a hunger strike. Up to 30 detainees, the major­i­ty of whom have pend­ing asy­lum claims, went on a hunger strike after ver­bal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse at the hands of ICE and deten­tion cen­ter staff at the noto­ri­ous El Paso facility.

These hor­ri­fy­ing reports are only the most recent in a series of unad­dressed civ­il rights vio­la­tions report­ed at the El Paso facil­i­ty since 2015, at which point SAALT, along with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, pur­sued legal action. In 2015, most­ly Bangladeshi asy­lum seek­ers at the El Paso facil­i­ty went on hunger strike to protest the indef­i­nite delays in their cas­es after pass­ing “cred­i­ble fear” inter­views, an ini­tial and impor­tant step in the asy­lum process. SAALT, Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing (DRUM), and the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Project of the Nation­al Lawyers Guild filed an offi­cial civ­il rights com­plaint with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (DHS) over treat­ment of the asy­lum seekers.

DHS has yet to address the civ­il rights vio­la­tions at the El Paso facil­i­ty report­ed in 2015, and now more asy­lum seek­ers face vio­lence and abuse.

Suman Raghu­nathan, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT, issued the fol­low­ing statement:
“Indi­vid­u­als should not have to put their bod­ies and lives on the line to draw atten­tion to their indef­i­nite deten­tion. Our nation’s immi­gra­tion sys­tem should pro­vide pro­tec­tion from vio­lence and per­se­cu­tion, yet cur­rent prac­tices cre­ate an increas­ing­ly puni­tive asy­lum process, which only extends the vio­lence and per­se­cu­tion asy­lum seek­ers are fleeing.”

Since 2015, SAALT has also doc­u­ment­ed reports of South Asian detainees in addi­tion­al facil­i­ties in Ore­gon, Cal­i­for­nia, and Geor­gia who have gone on hunger strikes to protest pro­longed deten­tion, denial of legal coun­sel, and a range of civ­il rights vio­la­tions from pro­vid­ing inad­e­quate med­ical care to with­hold­ing lan­guage inter­pre­ta­tion to deny­ing reli­gious accommodations.

SAALT is a nation­al, non­par­ti­san, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that fights for racial jus­tice and advo­cates for the civ­il rights of all South Asians in the Unit­ed States.

Con­tact:  Sophia Qureshi,


Novem­ber 7th, 2018

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) joins our nation in cel­e­brat­ing a sea change of lead­er­ship in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and wel­comes the prospect of sig­nif­i­cant pol­i­cy changes to reflect the needs and pri­or­i­ties of our communities.

South Asian Amer­i­cans, along­side immi­grant and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or across the coun­try, made their voic­es heard last night. The mes­sage is clear — the future we want is one that preserves dignity and inclusion for all. Vot­ers chose to reject incum­bents and can­di­dates run­ning on anti-immi­grant plat­forms in Cal­i­for­nia, Texas, Vir­ginia and Penn­syl­va­nia. Our work begins today to ensure every elect­ed offi­cial com­mits to safe­guard­ing the rights of all Amer­i­cans, includ­ing the over five mil­lion South Asians liv­ing in the U.S. We insist on account­abil­i­ty and strong, prin­ci­pled lead­er­ship for our communities.

South Asian Amer­i­cans reaf­firmed their role as con­stituents in piv­otal Con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts. In sev­er­al of the top 20 Con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts with the high­est South Asian pop­u­la­tions we saw unprece­dent­ed shifts – from the flip in Virginia’s 10th dis­trict where Demo­c­rat Jen­nifer Wex­ton defeat­ed incum­bent Bar­bara Com­stock; to the elec­tion of Demo­c­rat Haley Stevens in Michigan’s 11th dis­trict, which vot­ed for can­di­date Trump by a nar­row mar­gin in 2016; to Georgia’s 6th dis­trict in metro Atlanta that’s so close it hasn’t yet been called.

It was also a night of firsts in notable places. In Michi­gan, a state with thriv­ing and pow­er­ful Arab Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, Rashi­da Tlaib became the first Pales­tin­ian Amer­i­can woman elect­ed to Con­gress. She joins Ilhan Omar, the nation’s first Soma­li Amer­i­can elect­ed to the House, from Min­neso­ta. Togeth­er they are the nation’s first Mus­lim women elect­ed to Con­gress. Final­ly, Sharice Davids became one of the nation’s first Native Amer­i­can Mem­bers of Con­gress, and will rep­re­sent Kansas’ 3rd dis­trict, the site of Srini­vas Kuchibhotla’s mur­der at the hands of a white supremacist.

Our Midterm Elec­tion Voter Guide empha­sized the impor­tance of can­di­date posi­tions on Civ­il Rights, Immi­gra­tion, Hate Vio­lence, and Cen­sus 2020. We ask you now to join SAALT in this next phase of hold­ing our new­ly elect­ed offi­cials account­able to advanc­ing and sus­tain­ing immi­grant and civ­il rights by unequiv­o­cal­ly reject­ing an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al pro­pos­al on birthright cit­i­zen­ship and instead pass­ing a clean DREAM Act; tak­ing up the charge of con­fronting white suprema­cist hate vio­lence tar­get­ing all of our com­mu­ni­ties; and elim­i­nat­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion on the 2020 Census.

We will con­tin­ue work­ing with you to bridge grass­roots pow­er and pri­or­i­ties into a pol­i­cy agen­da. We remain com­mit­ted to keep­ing our com­mu­ni­ties’ pri­or­i­ties at the fore­front of those who aspire to rep­re­sent us.



Values, Goals of Freedom Riders Still Apply Today

Over the past two years, I have steeped myself in under­stand­ing the civ­il rights con­text for South Asian, Sikh, Mus­lim and Arab Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties as a Pro­gram Asso­ciate at SAALT.  My recent expe­ri­ence to join the orig­i­nal Free­dom Rid­ers from Free­dom Sum­mer on a bus ride from DC to Rich­mond helped me to real­ize how con­nect­ed peo­ple of col­or are in terms of their expe­ri­ences, hopes and dreams for the future.

On July 2, 2014, I received an oppor­tu­ni­ty to freedomridepar­tic­i­pate in the 50th Anniver­sary com­mem­o­rat­ing the sign­ing of the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act with the office of Civ­il Rights at the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion. The 1964 Civ­il Rights Act out­lawed dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race, col­or, reli­gion, sex, or nation­al ori­gin. It end­ed racial seg­re­ga­tion in schools, at the work­place and by facil­i­ties that served the gen­er­al pub­lic as well as pro­mot­ing equal­i­ty in vot­ing. I joined 48 oth­er stu­dent lead­ers across the coun­try, along with many orig­i­nal Free­dom Rid­ers from Free­dom Sum­mer to the Vir­ginia State Capi­tol in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia. The Free­dom Rides brought togeth­er civ­il rights activists who rode inter­state bus­es from DC into the seg­re­gat­ed South in 1961 to chal­lenge the non-enforce­ment of the U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions that ruled that seg­re­gat­ed pub­lic bus­es were uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. Dur­ing the jour­ney from DC to Rich­mond last week, I explored his­to­ry first­hand from lead­ers who paved the way for all of us.

This expe­ri­ence allowed me to reflect on the dif­fer­ence the Free­dom Rid­ers made for Mus­lim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian com­mu­ni­ties as these com­mu­ni­ties are part of this long civ­il rights his­to­ry. They were the same age as I when they left their homes and Uni­ver­si­ties and signed wills before embark­ing on a jour­ney know­ing they were risk­ing their lives. As a Sikh Amer­i­can, the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act is of tremen­dous sig­nif­i­cance as it addressed reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Pri­or to 1964, employ­ers could dis­crim­i­nate based on the applicant’s reli­gion and for Sikhs, tur­bans or long beards rep­re­sent arti­cles of faith.  While today the law stands that racial dis­crim­i­na­tion is in vio­la­tion of the Civ­il Rights Act, the back­lash our com­mu­ni­ties face are still preva­lent includ­ing at work­places and schools. The Free­dom Rid­ers expressed that at the time that there was a sense of urgency for the cli­mate to be changed. I think today the cli­mate is thirsty for change again as Amer­i­ca is becom­ing more diverse and there is a need for a soci­ety that respects peo­ple of var­i­ous back­grounds and faiths.

The morn­ing send-off was held at the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion where Free­dom Rid­er Hank Thomas spoke about his expe­ri­ence join­ing the move­ment. He reflect­ed on his time serv­ing in Viet­nam and know­ing that even if he came back with a Medal of Hon­or, he would not be able to sit in the front of the bus. Hank spoke on behalf of African Amer­i­can sol­diers back then as he explained that, “We loved a coun­try that did not love us.” Lis­ten­ing to his words, I found myself already strate­giz­ing with oth­er stu­dent lead­ers on how to con­tin­ue this fight that these lead­ers fought before us as how we could orga­nize to make sure injus­tices were pre­vent­ed for the future generation.

Dur­ing the ride on the way to Rich­mond, I was seat­ed next to Free­dom Rid­er Rev. Regi­nald Green. When he was a stu­dent at Vir­ginia Union Uni­ver­si­ty, Rev. Green heard about the Free­dom Rides and decid­ed to join.  He did not tell his par­ents and was arrest­ed and jailed in Mis­sis­sip­pi. Rev. Green reflect­ed on his rea­sons for join­ing the Free­dom Rides and not­ed that it was time for the cli­mate of our nation to change. Many of the Free­dom Rid­ers were in col­lege and paused their own edu­ca­tion to take part in activ­i­ties that would ensure equal edu­ca­tion for every­one one day. We arrived at the Vir­ginia State Capi­tol where the Free­dom Rid­ers were wel­comed by Gov­er­nor Ter­ry McAu­li­ffe. He reflect­ed on the great strides the Free­dom Rid­ers made and how, “They stood up when oth­ers failed to do so.” The Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Civ­il Rights at the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, Cather­ine Lha­mon, dis­cussed the mod­ern day cas­es her office faces and how she believes, “No stu­dent should have to choose between get­ting an edu­ca­tion and being treat­ed with dig­ni­ty.” The real­i­ty is that bias based bul­ly­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion still hap­pens in the class­rooms whether it’s race, reli­gion, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or nation­al ori­gin. After 9/11, inci­dents of bias based bul­ly­ing height­ened for the South Asian com­mu­ni­ties and racial and reli­gious pro­fil­ing as a whole increased towards the com­mu­ni­ty. While we com­mem­o­rate the work that has already been done for by the Depart­ment of the Edu­ca­tion to make sure our schools are safe, we need to make sure our class­rooms allow for stu­dents to attend safe­ly and with dignity.

Through­out this expe­ri­ence, it was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the hard­ships the Free­dom Rid­ers went through to fight for civ­il rights. Their tires were popped and the win­dows were bro­ken but they con­tin­ued to ride. They did not want to sit at the back of the bus, go to only a few restau­rants, use sep­a­rate bath­rooms or not be able to vote. The progress that they made to move away from racial seg­re­ga­tion is remark­able. They inspired me along with 48 oth­er stu­dents to join the move­ment and make sure that dur­ing the next 50 years, we are active­ly engaged in the strug­gle for racial justice.

Manpreet Teji
For­mer SAALT Staff Member
Law Stu­dent, John Mar­shall Law School

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.7)

Final ses­sion of Net­roots (for me with my flight home this after­noon, every­one else looks to be get­ting down with the offi­cial part-ay tonight by Dai­lyKos), and its about a core issue, immi­gra­tion reform. It’s great that we have a ses­sion about this top­ic, which is so impor­tant to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, but I’m a lit­tle bummed to see that, while it has a pret­ty good turnout, its not burst­ing at the seams. This is the only ses­sion I could find that dealt explic­it­ly with immi­gra­tion reform (there have def­i­nite­ly been oth­ers that touched upon it) and I had real­ly hoped that more of the Nation would come out about this.

Any­ways, the pan­el has rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Break­through, Amer­i­ca’s Voice, FIRM and SEIU. Thus far, its been most­ly con­text-set­ting and talk­ing about what each orga­ni­za­tion is doing in the area. Nico­la from fIRM shared that what got their orga­ni­za­tion into online orga­niz­ing was actu­al­ly sto­ry­telling. After the New Bed­ford raids, they need­ed a way to get the sto­ries out to peo­ple since the media was­n’t pay­ing any atten­tion. Now they’re work­ing to build social net­work­ing tools that are more respon­sive and are able to “go offline.” Joaquin from SEIU showed advo­ca­cy efforts SEIU has under­tak­en to high­light the plight of DREAM Act stu­dents fac­ing deportation.

Since this is my final post from Net­roots, I’ll bring togeth­er some of my obser­va­tions and thoughts from the week­end. Being here at Net­roots and see­ing the groundswell of sup­port and resources that exist in the pro­gres­sive move­ment is def­i­nite­ly an amaz­ing thing. It can feel, some­times, that we’re the lit­tle guy and we’re out­gunned and out-resourced by “the oth­er side” which obvi­ous­ly shifts debate to debate and issue to issue. Its not that Net­roots has shown me that we’re drown­ing in easy, acces­si­ble resources. Instead, it showed me how pro­gres­sives have and con­tin­ue to fight against entrenched elites using what­ev­er’s avail­able and chang­ing the rules of the game. Its that spir­it of “nev­er say die” that I will take back with me. A lot of the peo­ple here aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly involved and active in the same issues, there is def­i­nite­ly inter­est and will to work togeth­er to make things hap­pen in each oth­ers’ areas. Ulti­mate­ly, we have to use what­ev­er tools are out there to make things like immi­gra­tion or health­care reform, strength­en­ing civ­il rights, fight­ing racial pro­fil­ing hap­pen. Peo­ple all over Amer­i­ca are suf­fer­ing right now and it’s up to us to bring these issues up and bring about progress.

Mentally Ill Man with Open Case, Deported back to India 2 days After Obama Inaugurated, is Now Missing

This case came to our atten­tion through Dim­ple Rana at Deport­ed Dias­po­ra. In a trag­ic turn of event, Har­vey Sachdev, who has lived in the Unit­ed States for more than 40 years, was deport­ed to India even though his case is still open on appeal. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Sachdev suf­fers from schiz­o­phre­nia and has been miss­ing since his arrival in New Del­hi. Read the press release about Sachde­v’s case below.

Want to do some­thing to to demand human rights for immi­grants who are in deten­tion and who reg­u­lar­ly face due process vio­la­tions? Take a minute to sign this peti­tion to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma encour­ag­ing him to con­sid­er these vio­la­tions as he staffs and restruc­tures the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (the Exec­u­tive agency that over­sees many key oper­a­tions includ­ing Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment) here <>

Men­tal­ly Ill Man with Open Case, Deport­ed 2 days After Oba­ma Inau­gu­rat­ed, is Now Missing

Wednes­day, Jan­u­ary 28, 2009

For more infor­ma­tion, contact:
Neena Sachdev,
Greg Pleas­ants, JD/MSW, (213) 389‑2077, ext. 19,
Dim­ple Rana, (781) 521‑4544,

Wash­ing­ton DC Area Fam­i­ly of Men­tal­ly Ill Man Fears for His Life as He is Miss­ing in India Fol­low­ing Deportation
ICE exe­cutes depor­ta­tion of schiz­o­phrenic man on Jan­u­ary 22nd, despite his case still being under review, that he is the son, broth­er and father of U.S. cit­i­zens and that his depor­ta­tion could result in his death.

Wash­ing­ton D.C.  —  Jan­u­ary 28, 2009 — The Sachdev fam­i­ly is liv­ing a night­mare as Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) deport­ed their fam­i­ly mem­ber, Har­vey Sachdev, to India on Jan­u­ary 22nd. Har­vey was a res­i­dent of the Unit­ed States for near­ly 40 years, and is diag­nosed with schiz­o­phre­nia. Har­vey is a son, a broth­er and a father of U.S. cit­i­zens. His case is still open on appeal before the Fourth Cir­cuit court. Nev­er­the­less ICE deport­ed him to India on Jan­u­ary 22nd, 2009.

The trau­ma of Har­vey’s pro­longed deten­tion and recent depor­ta­tion made him high­ly unsta­ble. He is now miss­ing in New Del­hi, India, a city of 11 mil­lion peo­ple. It is an unfa­mil­iar city to him, where he has no fam­i­ly and no access to med­ica­tion. Accord­ing to his broth­er and sis­ters, “Our broth­er’s depor­ta­tion is like­ly a death sen­tence for him, and we also fear our moth­er’s life. The stress and the wor­ry has put her life in peril.”

Hav­ing pushed his depor­ta­tion date back sev­er­al times, ICE ini­tial­ly noti­fied the fam­i­ly of the sched­uled depor­ta­tion, but failed to con­firm it, so nec­es­sary arrange­ments could be made in India. After repeat­ed calls on the day of his depor­ta­tion, ICE only told the fam­i­ly he was no longer in deten­tion. The fam­i­ly also repeat­ed­ly attempt­ed to get con­fir­ma­tion from the India Con­sulate Offices and Embassy, which had to issue trav­el doc­u­ments, but received no information.

Har­vey came to the U.S. with his par­ents at the age of twelve. He was vale­dic­to­ri­an of his high school and earned a schol­ar­ship to col­lege. Trag­i­cal­ly, in his late teens he devel­oped schiz­o­phre­nia and has bat­tled men­tal ill­ness for all of his adult life.

Due to his men­tal ill­ness, he was con­vict­ed of inap­pro­pri­ate and aber­rant but non-vio­lent crimes. The most seri­ous was inde­cent expo­sure, but he was not guilty of any phys­i­cal con­tact with any per­son, nor of any vio­lence. There is no indi­ca­tion that any court thought that the pun­ish­ment for his crimes should result in depor­ta­tion to a coun­try that he can’t remem­ber, where he has no friends or fam­i­ly or any con­nec­tion whatsoever.

His par­ents and his fam­i­ly are U.S. cit­i­zens. Two of his fam­i­ly mem­bers are serv­ing in the mil­i­tary, with one com­plet­ing two tours of duty in Iraq. He mar­ried a U.S. cit­i­zen and has a U.S. cit­i­zen daugh­ter who is now twen­ty-two years old.

Mr. Sachdev is men­tal­ly ill and requires care, which his fam­i­ly is able and will­ing to pro­vide. He has no one in India and does not have the abil­i­ty to sur­vive on his own.

Greg Pleas­ants, JD/MSW, an Equal Jus­tice Works Fel­low and Staff Attor­ney at Men­tal Health Advo­ca­cy Ser­vices, Inc. states that “Peo­ple with men­tal and devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties who are deport­ed can also face a grave risk of harass­ment and even per­se­cu­tion in their home coun­tries — harass­ment and per­se­cu­tion based sole­ly on their disabilities.”

“With­out fam­i­ly or med­ical sup­port, depor­ta­tion can become a death sen­tence. Sui­cide and attempt­ed sui­cide are not uncom­mon among deport­ed peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness­es. Access to med­i­cine can be lim­it­ed and peo­ple are often deport­ed with­out any infor­ma­tion on their med­ical back­ground.  Depor­ta­tion of the men­tal­ly ill is cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment,” says Dim­ple Rana of Deport­ed Dias­po­ra, an orga­ni­za­tion work­ing with peo­ple deport­ed from the U.S.

For more infor­ma­tion, contact:
Neena Sachdev — Har­vey Sachde­v’s sis­ter,
Greg Pleas­ants, JD/MSW — Equal Jus­tice Works Fel­low and Staff Attor­ney at Men­tal Health Advo­ca­cy Ser­vices, Inc. (213) 389‑2077 ext. 19,
Dim­ple Rana, Co-Founder and Direc­tor, Deport­ed Dias­po­ra, (781) 521‑4544,