South Asian Migrants in Detention

South Asian Migrants in Deten­tion: A Fact­sheet

This fact sheet pro­vides an overview of trends in South Asian migra­tion along the U.S. South­ern bor­der, con­di­tions many South Asian migrants face in deten­tion facil­i­ties, spe­cif­ic deten­tion cas­es SAALT has tracked since 2014,  and num­bers of undoc­u­ment­ed Indi­ans.

Letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Demanding Release of Hunger Strikers in El Paso ICE Facility

Feb­ru­ary 8, 2019

Ms. Kirst­jen M. Nielsen Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­ri­ty Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20528

Sec­re­tary Nielsen,

We write to express our deep and urgent con­cern about the treat­ment of Indi­an-Pun­jabi Sikh and Cuban asy­lum seek­ers detained at the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter in Texas, in par­tic­u­lar 11 of who have been on hunger strike since late Decem­ber, 2018. Through nasal tubes and IV, Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) offi­cials are force-feed­ing nine Pun­jabi detained asy­lum seek­ers; six of these nine indi­vid­u­als have been force-fed since Jan­u­ary. It is imper­a­tive that the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (DHS) imme­di­ate­ly release the indi­vid­u­als engaged in these hunger strikes to ensure their well-being, safe­ty, and pro­tec­tion of their due process rights.

Just today, our orga­ni­za­tions learned of dis­turb­ing retal­i­a­tion against the strik­ers. An attor­ney rep­re­sent­ing two of the detained hunger strik­ers report­ed that ICE offi­cials threw nine of the hunger strik­ers into soli­tary con­fine­ment for refus­ing to be force-fed while stand­ing up. This fol­lows reports on Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 6, that ICE offi­cials threat­ened four of the hunger strik­ers with immi­nent depor­ta­tion, alleged­ly sched­uled for today, Feb­ru­ary 8, 2019.

A lawyer rep­re­sent­ing two of the detained immi­grants informed South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) that her clients’ arms and legs were tied to a chair to facil­i­tate the force- feed­ing. The force-feed­ing tube stays in their nasal pas­sages 24/7. On some of the indi­vid­u­als, the tubes are too large, caus­ing nasal bleed­ing and pain. Many of the detained asy­lum seek­ers have wounds and lesions on their throats and nasal pas­sages, are suf­fer­ing from rec­tal bleed­ing and bleed­ing while vom­it­ing, per­sis­tent stom­ach pain, and are hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty speak­ing and breath­ing. We are deeply con­cerned about their health and well-being at the hands of guards and med­ical staff at the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter.

On Jan­u­ary 30, 2019 an Asso­ci­at­ed Press arti­cle detailed the sto­ry of deten­tion cen­ter staff force-feed­ing Cuban and Pun­jabi asy­lum seek­ers who have been on hunger strike to protest their pro­longed deten­tion and denial of bond at bond hear­ings after pass­ing cred­i­ble fear inter­views. This lat­est strike rep­re­sents an esca­la­tion of per­va­sive and his­tor­i­cal­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry behav­ior against South Asian asy­lum seek­ers in par­tic­u­lar, that has been extend­ed to Cuban asy­lum seek­ers in this case and across var­i­ous pop­u­la­tions.

The detained immi­grants have also been sub­ject­ed to pro­longed psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse by ICE and deten­tion staff. They are being denied reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions and are rou­tine­ly threat­ened with depor­ta­tion, seg­re­ga­tion, and soli­tary con­fine­ment. We believe these threats are a form of retal­i­a­tion for draw­ing atten­tion to their cas­es through the hunger strike.

Last­ly, the asy­lum seek­ers are being denied ade­quate lan­guage access inside the facil­i­ties regard­ing their legal rights and due process. All deten­tion facil­i­ties have an oblig­a­tion to pro­vide lan­guage inter­pre­ta­tion under Title VI of the Civ­il Rights Act and Exec­u­tive Order 13166 and under the ICE’s Per­for­mance Based Nation­al Deten­tion Stan­dards 2011 (rev 2016).

Our orga­ni­za­tions and many oth­ers have doc­u­ment­ed egre­gious, dan­ger­ous, and puni­tive con­di­tions expe­ri­enced by hunger strik­ers in deten­tion facil­i­ties across the coun­try, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter and Ade­lan­to Deten­tion Facil­i­ty. Asy­lum denial rates in El Paso and neigh­bor­ing New Mex­i­co, where some of the hunger strik­ers’ cas­es were heard, area­mong the high­est in the coun­try. The cur­rent El Paso immi­gra­tion judges aver­age about 95% for denials of asy­lum, with one judge not award­ing asy­lum in the last two years. Addi­tion­al­ly, El Paso and south­ern New Mex­i­co immi­gra­tion judges rou­tine­ly deny bond, result­ing in pro­longed deten­tion for many res­i­dents in the deten­tion facil­i­ty.

From 2014 through 2018, orga­ni­za­tions have doc­u­ment­ed sev­er­al instances of dam­ag­ing and inhu­mane treat­ment of asy­lum seek­ers on hunger strike in the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter and oth­ers across the coun­try.

2014

El Paso, TX: In 2014, the Sikh Coali­tion filed a com­plaint (No. 14–07-ICE-0183) with the DHS Office of Civ­il Rights and Civ­il Lib­er­ties (CRCL) about the treat­ment of 37 Pun­jabi asy­lum seek­ers detained in the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter for over one year. All of these asy­lum seek­ers passed their cred­i­ble fear inter­views and were denied bond or parole and went on hunger strike to protest their pro­longed deten­tion. They too received inad­e­quate med­ical care, retal­i­a­tion for their hunger strike, and no lan­guage inter­pre­ta­tion. In the end, many of them were deport­ed.

2015

El Paso, TX: In 2015, 54 South Asian asy­lum seek­ers, main­ly from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pak­istan went on hunger strike at the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter to protest their pro­longed deten­tion and demand inves­ti­ga­tions into unfair hear­ings and inter­fer­ence with their legal cas­es. These asy­lum seek­ers passed their cred­i­ble fear inter­views and were denied bond or parole. They too received inad­e­quate med­ical care, retal­i­a­tion for their hunger strike, and no lan­guage inter­pre­ta­tion. In the end, as egre­gious exam­ples of refoule­ment, many of them were deport­ed back to their deaths. In the 2014 and 2015 instances, the gov­ern­ment brought Indi­an and Bangladesh con­sulates into the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter with­out the con­sent of the asy­lum seek­ers. This endan­gered the secu­ri­ty of the detained immi­grants who were seek­ing asy­lum from these very gov­ern­ments rep­re­sent­ed by the respec­tive con­sular offices. These con­sulate rep­re­sen­ta­tives then intim­i­dat­ed detainees into end­ing their hunger strike, which is in direct vio­la­tion of 8 CFR 208.6 which “gen­er­al­ly pro­hibits the dis­clo­sure to third par­ties of infor­ma­tion­con­tained in or per­tain­ing to asy­lum appli­ca­tions, cred­i­ble fear deter­mi­na­tions, and rea­son­able­fear deter­mi­na­tion.”

In 2015, Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing (DRUM), The Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Project of the Nation­al Lawyers Guild (NIP-NLG), and South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) filed a com­plaint (No. 16–01-ICE-0012) with CRCL about the treat­ment of these 54 asy­lum seek­ers. In ear­ly 2017, we were informed the find­ings of a CRCL inves­ti­ga­tion were turned over to ICE for fur­ther action. We have fol­lowed up sev­er­al times for the find­ings of these inves­ti­ga­tions and have been giv­en no update.

2017

Ade­lan­to, CA: An asy­lum seek­er from Nicaragua detained in the Ade­lan­to Deten­tion Facil­i­ty com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2017 and sev­en more detained immi­grants attempt­ed sui­cides between Octo­ber 2016 and July 2018. This fol­lows the death of five asy­lum seek­ers from Mex­i­co, El Sal­vador, and Hon­duras over the last three years alone in Ade­lan­to, result­ing from med­ical neglect despite repeat­ed requests for med­ical atten­tion from detained immi­grants. In June 2017 near­ly 40 detained immi­grants from Guatemala, El Sal­vador, and Hon­duras launched a series of hunger strikes to protest their con­di­tions and treat­ment and faced severe retal­i­a­tion. In May, 2018 the DHS Office of the Inspec­tor Gen­er­al con­duct­ed a sur­prise vis­it of the facil­i­ty and con­clud­ed that it was vio­lat­ing ICE’s own deten­tion stan­dards. On August 15, 2018, a del­e­ga­tion of Mem­bers of Con­gress from the Con­gres­sion­al Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cau­cus, led by Chair­woman Judy Chu, raised fur­ther ques­tions about hunger strikes, retal­i­a­tion, and woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate med­ical care of detained immi­grants in the Ade­lan­to Deten­tion Facil­i­ty.

2018

Sheri­dan, OR: In June, 2018, 70 South Asian detained immi­grants in the Yamhill Coun­ty Fed­er­al Prison were denied access to coun­sel, lan­guage inter­pre­ta­tion, and reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions. Some Sikh detained immi­grants were even forced to cut their hair.

Folk­ston, GA: Also in June, 2018 over 100 South Asian asy­lum seek­ers at the ICE Pro­cess­ing Facil­i­ty in Folk­ston, GA began a sec­ond hunger strike to protest their pro­longed deten­tion. Once again, after pass­ing cred­i­ble fear inter­views, the asy­lum seek­ers were denied bond by immi­gra­tion judges. DHS alleged­ly vis­it­ed the facil­i­ty in August, 2018, but there has been no update on the find­ings of this vis­it.

Vic­torville, CA: Also in June, 2018 near­ly 400 South Asian asy­lum seek­ers were held in the Fed­er­al Cor­rec­tion­al Insti­tu­tion in Vic­torville, CA. Many of the asy­lum seek­ers were Sikh and banned from wear­ing their tur­bans and denied oth­er reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions and ade­quate med­ical care at a facil­i­ty noto­ri­ous for its sca­bies and chick­en pox out­breaks. The detained immi­grants were also denied legal coun­sel and their cas­es were on indef­i­nite hold.

We request the fol­low­ing actions:

  1. Release the hunger strik­ers and pro­vide them with imme­di­ate med­ical atten­tion.
  2. Release the court order autho­riz­ing ICE or DHS offi­cials to engage in force-feed­ing the detained immi­grants in the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter.
  3. Con­duct an unan­nounced inspec­tion by the DHS Office of the Inspec­tor Gen­er­al.
  4. Con­duct imme­di­ate inde­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing of the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter while inves­ti­ga­tions are car­ried out into alle­ga­tions against med­ical staff and guards, includ­ing the review of facil­i­ty video footage that doc­u­ments inci­dents of abuse and mis­treat­ment.
  5. Release the find­ings of the 2015 CRCL inves­ti­ga­tion into treat­ment of hunger strik­ers and vio­la­tion of Title VI pro­vi­sions in the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter to the com­plainants with­in 14 days.
  6. Con­duct an inves­ti­ga­tion to assess how ICE com­plies with Title VI pro­vi­sions relat­ing to lan­guage access in the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter and nation­wide across all deten­tion facil­i­ties. Release the find­ings to the pub­lic with­in 30 days.
  7. Imme­di­ate­ly con­duct an inves­ti­ga­tion of bond and parole process­es, includ­ing whether peo­ple are released, in the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter and nation­wide across all deten­tion facil­i­ties. Release the find­ings to the pub­lic with­in 30 days.

Signed,

  • Advo­cate Vis­i­tors with Immi­grants in Deten­tion (AVID) in the Chi­huahuan Desert
  • Arab Resource and Orga­niz­ing Cen­ter (AROC)
  • Chhaya CDC
  •  Defend­ing Rights and Dis­sent
  •  Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing (DRUM)
  •  Detained Migrant Sol­i­dar­i­ty Com­mit­tee
  •  Deten­tion Watch Net­work
  •  Free­dom for Immi­grants
  •  Gov­ern­ment Infor­ma­tion Watch
  •  Immi­grant Defense Project
  •   Immi­gra­tion Advo­cates Net­work
  •   Jakara Move­ment
  •   Kaur Law LLC — Ruby Kaur
  •   Nation­al Immi­grant Jus­tice Cen­ter
  •   Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Project of NLG
  •   Nation­al Net­work for Immi­grant and Refugee Rights
  •   NWDC Resis­tance
  •   Sakhi for South Asian Women
  •   Sap­na NYC, Inc.
  •   Ser­vices, Immi­grant Rights & Edu­ca­tion Net­work (SIREN)
  •   Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (SALDEF)
  •   Sikh Coali­tion
  •   South Asian Amer­i­can Pol­i­cy & Research Insti­tute (SAAPRI)
  •   South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT)
  •   South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter
  •   Texas Civ­il Rights Project
  •   The Reformed Church of High­land Park

ICE officials throw El Paso hunger strikers into solitary confinement after altercation over force-feeding, says attorney

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Fri­day, Feb­ru­ary 8, 2019

El Paso, Texas — The nine Sikh asy­lum seek­ers on hunger strike in the El Paso Ser­vice Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter (EPSPC) have been thrown into soli­tary con­fine­ment after refus­ing to be force-fed stand­ing up, reports their attor­ney after speak­ing with a fam­i­ly mem­ber. Immi­grant rights advo­cates, civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions, and local com­mu­ni­ty groups are deeply alarmed by this lat­est devel­op­ment involv­ing the nine Sikh asy­lum seek­ers who have been on hunger strike for more than 40 days to protest their incar­cer­a­tion at the EPSPC. Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) has respond­ed with abu­sive retal­i­a­tion, includ­ing force-feed­ing at least nine of the asy­lum seek­ers, a cru­el, degrad­ing and inhu­mane prac­tice. ICE agents also threat­ened the asy­lum seek­ers with depor­ta­tion as ear­ly as Fri­day morn­ing.

“They have scars on their arms from IVs, and are suf­fer­ing from rec­tal bleed­ing and blood in their vom­it in addi­tion to per­sis­tent stom­ach, chest, and throat pain. They recount­ed abuse after abuse at the hands of ICE agents and med­ical staff at the facil­i­ty. They’ve lost 40 to 50 pounds,” said the attor­ney for two of the asy­lum seek­ers, Ruby Kaur, after vis­it­ing the facil­i­ty on Thurs­day. “They told me ICE agents have threat­ened them with depor­ta­tion as ear­ly as today, despite them being in no phys­i­cal con­di­tion to trav­el.  ICE agents respond­ed that there was noth­ing that they could do and that they didn’t care.”

Amrit Singh, the uncle to two of the Sikh asy­lum seek­ers on hunger strike, attempt­ed to put mon­ey into the com­mis­sary accounts of three of the strik­ers and mon­ey was returned back to his card.  This devel­op­ment is par­tic­u­lar­ly alarm­ing because ICE fre­quent­ly cuts off detainees’ phone accounts pri­or to depor­ta­tion.

“We demand the imme­di­ate release of the hunger strik­ers and that they receive crit­i­cal med­ical care,” said Nathan Craig of AVID. “ICE has a long doc­u­ment­ed his­to­ry of abuse, clear­ly indi­cat­ing that peo­ple are not safe in its cus­tody. We call on Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Esco­bar of Texas to stand with the migrant com­mu­ni­ty and demand their release, while insist­ing on an inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tion of the facil­i­ty and ICE Field Office, yield­ing swift dis­ci­pli­nary con­se­quences over the strik­ers’ treat­ment.”

Since May 2015, Free­dom for Immi­grants has doc­u­ment­ed near­ly 1,400 peo­ple on hunger strike in 18 immi­gra­tion deten­tion facil­i­ties. A trou­bling pat­tern as Pres­i­dent Trump con­tin­ues to expand the deten­tion sys­tem to sky­rock­et­ing pro­por­tions, lead­ing to an increase in abuse and death. Since March of 2018, AVID vol­un­teers have been col­lect­ing reports of large num­bers of detained South Asians hunger strik­ing at both EPSPC and the neigh­bor­ing Otero Coun­ty Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter.

“In the shad­ow of Trump’s bor­der wall is immi­gra­tion deten­tion, a sys­tem shroud­ed in secre­cy where a cul­ture of vio­lence per­sists,” said Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Direc­tor of Pol­i­cy and Advo­ca­cy for South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT). “The retal­i­a­tion and abuse that hunger strik­ers have been forced to endure under­score the egre­gious con­di­tions endem­ic to the deten­tion sys­tem nation­wide. It also echoes the cas­es of abuse and tor­ture of South Asian migrants in par­tic­u­lar, in deten­tion facil­i­ties in the U.S., includ­ing most recent­ly at the Ade­lan­to Deten­tion Cen­ter in Cal­i­for­nia.”

Sign the peti­tion to sup­port the hunger strik­ers at the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter:  https://rightsanddissent.salsalabs.org/ICEForceFeeding/index.html

Media Con­tacts

Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org 202–997-4211

Liz Mar­tinez, lmartinez@freedomforimmigrants.org 956–572-4349

###

Advo­cate Vis­i­tors with Immi­grants in Deten­tion (AVID) in the Chi­huahuan Desert works to end the iso­la­tion of immi­gra­tion deten­tion. Our vol­un­teers are from Las Cruces, El Paso, and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. We vis­it and write to migrants who are detained in El Paso, Otero, and West Texas. avid.chihuahuan.org

Detained Migrant Sol­i­dar­i­ty Com­mit­tee (DMSC) is a com­mu­ni­ty group based in El Paso, TX, that fights to free the bor­der from the crim­i­nal­iza­tion and mass incar­cer­a­tion of migrants. We aim to reach this goal through sup­port ser­vices, orga­niz­ing, and actions that pro­mote more humane pub­lic pol­i­cy and respect for migrants and oth­er mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties.

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (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.

Deten­tion Watch Net­work (DWN) is a nation­al coali­tion of orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als work­ing to expose and chal­lenge the injus­tices of the Unit­ed States’ immi­gra­tion deten­tion and depor­ta­tion sys­tem and advo­cate for pro­found change that pro­motes the rights and dig­ni­ty of all per­sons. Found­ed in 1997 by immi­grant rights groups, DWN brings togeth­er advo­cates to uni­fy strat­e­gy and build part­ner­ships on a local and nation­al lev­el to end immi­gra­tion deten­tion. Vis­it www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

Defend­ing Rights & Dis­sent (DRAD) is a nation­al civ­il lib­er­ty orga­ni­za­tion that strength­ens our par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy by pro­tect­ing the right to polit­i­cal expres­sion and work­ing to make the promise of the Bill of Rights a real­i­ty for every­one.

DRUM — Desis Ris­ing Up & Mov­ing orga­nizes low income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean immi­grants, work­ers, and youth in NYC for edu­ca­tion­al, immi­grant, racial, work­er, and gen­der jus­tice.

Free­dom for Immi­grants is Devot­ed to abol­ish­ing immi­gra­tion deten­tion, while end­ing the iso­la­tion of peo­ple cur­rent­ly suf­fer­ing in this prof­it-dri­ven sys­tem. Free­dom for Immi­grants pro­vides sup­port to peo­ple in immi­gra­tion deten­tion and mon­i­tors and doc­u­ments human rights abus­es through a nation­al net­work of vis­i­ta­tion pro­grams, a free hot­line and com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to deten­tion. www.freedomforimmigrants.org

Ruby Kaur — Kaur Law LLC

Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Project of the NLG pro­motes jus­tice and equal­i­ty of treat­ment in all areas of immi­gra­tion law, the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, and poli­cies relat­ed to immi­gra­tion. We pro­vide tech­ni­cal assis­tance and sup­port to legal prac­ti­tion­ers, immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions, and all advo­cates seek­ing and work­ing to advance the rights of nonci­t­i­zens.

 

Helping ICE Doesn’t Mean They Won’t Turn Around and Deport You Anyway

Thanks to RaceWire, where I found the fol­low­ing sto­ry: A Pak­istani man had over­stayed his visa when he was con­tact­ed by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment agents who enlist­ed his help in gath­er­ing evi­dence against a para­le­gal fil­ing false immi­gra­tion claims. In exchange, they promised to help him stay in the coun­try and pos­si­bly get a green card. The para­le­gal was even­tu­al­ly indict­ed, I’m sure in no small part due to his efforts. He then went on to help ICE agents gath­er infor­ma­tion about ter­ror­ism-relat­ed activ­i­ties at a local mosque. How does ICE repay him? Giv­ing him false infor­ma­tion about his depor­ta­tion order and, now, ready­ing itself to deport the man who had helped them.

Tak­en with recent rev­e­la­tions about law enforce­ment ini­tia­tives to place infor­mants at Amer­i­can mosques, and the result­ing betray­al of trust for the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty, this sto­ry shows the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships between nation­al secu­ri­ty, immi­gra­tion and the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty. Amer­i­can Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions have repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that it is impor­tant for law enforce­ment agen­cies to build rela­tion­ships with the com­mu­ni­ty in an open and hon­est man­ner. More­over, the com­mu­ni­ty is com­mit­ted, like all oth­er com­mu­ni­ties, to con­tribut­ing to a strong and vibrant Amer­i­can soci­ety that affirms prin­ci­ples like reli­gious free­dom and equal­i­ty before the law. To see some­one who went out of their way to help ICE agents, no mat­ter how ques­tion­able the activ­i­ties, aban­doned by the agency and fac­ing depor­ta­tion puts a human face to how this tru­ly com­pli­cat­ed sys­tem is fail­ing peo­ple.

Read the whole sto­ry here.

Read the Islam­ic Cir­cle of North Amer­i­ca’s state­ment oppos­ing FBI infor­mants (you have to scroll down past the first state­ment).

“Failing Families” op-ed in Baltimore Sun

Mont­gomery Coun­ty, MD, where the SAALT offices are locat­ed, is a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty with immi­grants from around the world. This op-ed from Dr. Lavanya Sithanan­dam, a pedi­a­tri­cian and trav­el doc­tor based in Tako­ma Park, shows how immi­gra­tion raids have neg­a­tive­ly impact this com­mu­ni­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly its most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers: chil­dren. Read the excel­lent piece here:

Failing Families

Immigration enforcement policies unfairly hurt many children who are citizens

by Lavanya Sithanan­dam

When I walked into the exam room, I knew some­thing was wrong. My 8‑year old patient, usu­al­ly an extro­vert­ed, charm­ing boy, was angry. He sat with his arms crossed and refused to look at me. His exhaust­ed moth­er recount­ed how one week ago, her hus­band, after arriv­ing home from a 12-hour shift at work, had been arrest­ed in front of his chil­dren and tak­en away in hand­cuffs. He was now sit­ting in an Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) deten­tion cen­ter in Fred­er­ick. The moth­er asked me to eval­u­ate her son for a one-week his­to­ry of poor appetite, dif­fi­cul­ty with sleep­ing, and wheez­ing.

As a pedi­a­tri­cian work­ing in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, home to the largest immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty in Mary­land, I have seen first­hand the dev­as­tat­ing effects that aggres­sive immi­gra­tion enforce­ment poli­cies can have on fam­i­lies. Many of these chil­dren are cit­i­zens, born in the Unit­ed States to at least one undoc­u­ment­ed par­ent. Yet these chil­dren often expe­ri­ence what no U.S. cit­i­zen (or any child, for that mat­ter) should. They live in con­stant fear of aban­don­ment because they have seen and heard of neigh­bors and fam­i­ly mem­bers being picked up and deport­ed with­in days.

My patient, a “cit­i­zen child” him­self, was exhibit­ing symp­toms of depres­sion, and like oth­er chil­dren who have lost a par­ent to deten­tion cen­ters, he per­ceives his father’s arrest as some­how being his fault. His moth­er, who must now take over her hus­band’s 15-year role as the fam­i­ly’s bread­win­ner, is strug­gling to pay the bills, to make the lengthy dri­ve to see her hus­band, and to take her son to the doc­tor. These par­ents are good peo­ple: hard­work­ing and hon­est immi­grants from West Africa who pay their tax­es and take good care of their chil­dren. They strug­gle to make a decent life for their fam­i­ly, despite a gru­el­ing, 70-hour work­week.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, their sto­ry is not unique. There are more than 5 mil­lion cit­i­zen chil­dren in this coun­try — and sad­ly, the like­li­hood that one or both of their par­ents will be deport­ed is increas­ing. In order to meet arrest quo­tas, ICE agents are increas­ing­ly going after “soft tar­gets”: immi­grants such as my patien­t’s father, with no crim­i­nal record and for whom ICE had not issued a depor­ta­tion order. Some of these peo­ple are picked up by chance, at work or at home. Some are vic­tims of “res­i­den­tial raids” where immi­gra­tion author­i­ties knock on door after door with no evi­dence that the inhab­i­tants are undoc­u­ment­ed until they can get some­one to admit that he or she is here ille­gal­ly.

Some­times, racial pro­fil­ing is an issue — as in the case, recent­ly revealed, of a Jan­u­ary 2007 raid on a 7‑Eleven in Bal­ti­more. Offi­cers detained 24 Lati­no men, few of them with crim­i­nal records, in an appar­ent effort to meet a quo­ta for arrests.

The future for fam­i­lies like my 8‑year-old patien­t’s looks grim. My patien­t’s suf­fer­ing will prob­a­bly have no influ­ence on his father’s depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings, giv­en the high legal stan­dards of “extreme hard­ship” that must be met in order for his father to stay with his fam­i­ly. The boy will most like­ly be forced to start a new life in a coun­try he has nev­er even vis­it­ed.

Immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy is com­pli­cat­ed and emo­tion­al­ly charged, but pun­ish­ing cit­i­zen chil­dren should be at the bot­tom of ICE’s pri­or­i­ties. It is time to once again con­sid­er a fair and com­pre­hen­sive approach to immi­gra­tion reform. One promis­ing pro­pos­al is the “Child Cit­i­zen­ship Pro­tec­tion Act” (intro­duced this year by Rep. Jose Ser­ra­no of New York), which would autho­rize an immi­gra­tion judge to pre­vent depor­ta­tion of an immi­grant when it is in the best inter­est of his or her cit­i­zen chil­dren.

It is essen­tial to enact laws that will pro­mote fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion, fair­ness and dig­ni­ty over cur­rent enforce­ment tac­tics that tear fam­i­lies apart.

Dr. Lavanya Sithanan­dam, a pedi­a­tri­cian in Tako­ma Park, immi­grat­ed to this coun­try from India at the age of 4. She is a mem­ber of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a social jus­tice and advo­ca­cy group. Her e‑mail is drsithanandam@gmail.com.