Immigration Advocates Warn of Physical and Mental Harm to Hunger Strikers in El Paso Detention Facility

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 15, 2019

EL PASO, TX — Immigration advocates and medical experts are deeply concerned over the ongoing hunger strike at the El Paso Service Processing Center and the dire situation facing people held in indefinite detention, especially as their health deteriorates.

The “El Paso 9” have been subjected to brutal force-feedings, mistreatment and retaliatory actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private contractors following their hunger strike, which began in late December 2018. At least two of the “El Paso 9” have entered the 11th week of their hunger strike.  

Of the group of men who were on hunger strike or supporting the hunger strike, two have been deported, three have been transferred to the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, and four remain detained at the El Paso Processing Center, two of whom are still on hunger strike and are in medical isolation.

Nathan Craig, a volunteer with Advocate Visitors in Detention, who recently visited one of the hunger strikers in El Paso, said, “At this point, having not eaten since December, he can barely walk and hold up his head. In his frail state, thinking and talking are slow and laborious. He must be afforded the opportunity to recuperate outside of detention so that he can prepare for his merits hearing and cross-examination.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which has long argued that force-feeding against an individual’s wishes is unethical and inhumane, says precautions must be taken to ensure those on hunger strike receive adequate medical attention and accommodations. PHR also recommends that Congress fund alternatives to detention programming that represent a long-term solution to prevent human rights violations documented in immigration detention. Below is an official statement by Physicians for Human Rights:

Hunger striking is a nonviolent form of protest undertaken when other means of expressing grievances are unavailable, and hunger strikers must be protected from any and all reprisals. Physicians for Human Rights calls for all precautions to be taken to ensure that hunger strikers receive needed medical attention, and that accommodations be made to ensure appropriate transport so that they are not injured. Not eating may result in lightheadedness, so wheelchairs should be provided as needed.

“Extensive medical research shows that immigration detention is harmful and strongly correlated with negative mental health outcomes, while prolonged or indefinite detention violates the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.

“The U.S. immigration detention system has repeatedly demonstrated a dangerous lack of accountability and transparency, and the recent hunger strikes are just one more example illustrating this dire situation. As a long-term solution, PHR strongly recommends the use of alternatives to detention that are humane and cost-effective and that have been proven to ensure compliance with immigration enforcement.

In a separate comment, Altaf Saadi, MD, a neurologist at UCLA and a member of Physicians for Human Rights’ Asylum Network, said,

Prolonged detention causes significant medical harm to individuals due to both denial and delays in medical care, inadequate staffing, punitive approaches to mental health needs like the misuse of isolation, and harmful conditions of confinement more broadly like poor and overcrowded living conditions. The human toll of detention is compounded for those already vulnerable and suffering from trauma based on persecution they have endured in their home countries. We don’t want more patients joining the list of those whose deaths have been linked to substandard care in detention, nor do we want to see the lasting impacts of detention-related psychological harm.”

ICE has threatened the hunger-striking men with deportation despite the deterioration of their health.

Immigration and civil rights groups are demanding the immediate release of the men and for them to be able to address their asylum cases outside of detention, as they should have been able to do from the beginning.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy for South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said, “These asylum seekers, like so many before them, resorted to a hunger strike to draw attention to the litany of abuses they face at the hands of ICE on top of the indefinite delays in adjudicating their asylum cases.  We demand the immediate release of all of the detained individuals so they can be cared for by their community. And, we demand an immediate investigation into the civil rights violations, retaliation, and medical negligence at the El Paso Processing Center, a facility that SAALT and our partners have been monitoring and lodging complaints about over the last five years. We know the treatment of detained individuals in El Paso is a microcosm of conditions across detention facilities in this country.”

Media contact: Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org, 202-997-4211

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Freedom for Immigrants 

Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID), in the Chihuahuan Desert

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Defending Rights & Dissent

National Immigration Project of the NLG

Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee

Ruby Kaur –Kaur Law Pllc

La Resistencia

 

NAKASEC, SAALT, and SEARAC Welcome Introduction of American Dream and Promise Act

Washington, D.C.: Asian American organizations welcome the introduction of the American Dream and Promise Act. The bill, introduced by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA 40), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY 7), and Yvette Clarke (D-NY 9), provides a majority of undocumented immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and individuals with status under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs a pathway to citizenship.

There are more than 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, 1.7 million of whom are Asian American. The top five countries of origin for Asian American undocumented individuals are India, China, South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The legislation would protect over 2 million individuals from detention and deportation by creating a permanent pathway to citizenship for these populations. Furthermore, approximately 120,000 Asian American DREAMERs and 15,000 Nepali Americans who currently live in the United States through the TPS program would benefit from the process created in this bill.

Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of SEARAC, states:

We applaud the leadership of Reps. Roybal-Allard, Velazquez, and Clarke for introducing this bill. It is an important step for immigrant communities and, if passed, would provide more than 9,000 Vietnamese Americans with a permanent pathway to citizenship. Our communities are hopeful that this act will create a strong foundation and pave the way for additional legislation that liberates all members of our communities from the fear heightened detentions and deportations inflict. And as Congress moves this bill forward, we must ensure that we do not divide immigrant communities into those deserving and undeserving of protections by utilizing only model immigrant narratives. SEARAC will continue to work with members of Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act and fix our fundamentally broken immigration system to create humane immigration processes that protect Southeast Asian American families from the trauma of detention and deportation and reunite our families in the United States.”

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT, states:

We welcome the introduction of the American Dream and Promise Act, sets out to provide a long awaited pathway to citizenship for over two million individuals, including those with DACA, TPS, and DED. The South Asian community in the United States alone has over 23,000 Dreamers and 15,000 Nepali Americans with TPS who will directly benefit from this legislation. While Congress embarks on this important step, we will continue to follow the leadership of DACA, TPS, and DED holders, who advocate for policies that would uplift all – rather than legislation that would benefit one immigrant community at the expense of another. We must not allow any compromises that would undermine this hard work and deliver this bill’s protections for the price of increased enforcement and other harmful and unnecessary additions. We look forward to building on this legislation to improve our entirely broken immigration system to ensure that all immigrant families are protected from detention, deportation, and denaturalization.

Birdie Park, DACA Recipient with NAKASEC, states:

We are excited about forward motion in Congress for immigrant youth, TPS holders, and those with DED. We call upon our members of Congress to be courageous and not negotiate anything harmful for our communities onto this bill.”

 

Between Deals and Decisions, SAALT Reaffirms the Need for Real, Clean Solutions on Immigration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2019

The Supreme Court’s decision today to omit hearing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) case is welcome news, as it keeps the program alive and allows current DACA recipients to continue submitting renewal applications. While this is encouraging, the work ahead remains clear – we need a clean DREAM Act and permanent legislative solutions that do not include harmful provisions, as proposed by the Trump Administration last weekend.

The Administration’s immigration “deal” from this weekend is no deal at all – it’s a sham. The Administration is claiming to reinstate two programs – DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – that the Administration itself made a decision to eviscerate last year. These so-called protections to TPS and DACA holders are half baked at best and do little to actually protect communities. The “deal” legislation that the Senate will likely introduce this week excludes entire communities. Anyone with TPS status from Nepal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Syria would not be protected.  The bill only covers a fraction of all DREAMers and does not provide permanent protection from deportation. Most alarmingly, it includes a $5.7 billion dollar border wall and more bloated increases to detention beds and border patrol agents.

“This ‘deal’ offers no concessions, no solutions, and will further undermine the rule of law. It will intensify militarization on the border and expand detention, while continuing to hurt refugees and asylum seekers, DACA recipients, and TPS holders. There are at least 450,000 undocumented people from India alone, at least 25,000 Indian and Pakistani DACA recipients, and nearly 15,000 thousand Nepalis with TPS status who will be directly impacted by this legislation,” said Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

South Asians, along with all immigrant communities, deserve a real immigration overhaul that serves everyone. Once this sham bill is introduced, we will support our community members and partners to voice our opposition.

CONTACT: Sophia Qureshi sophia@saalt.org

SAALT WELCOMES CHANGE IN CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.

 

 

On the Anniversary of the Senate Immigration Bill

A year is a long time to wait. The Senate passed an immigration bill a year ago today, but the House has yet to act to make vital changes to our broken immigration system. Meanwhile, South Asian and other immigrants are languishing in the family and employment visa backlogs, enduring detention and deportation, or living in the shadows of our society due to their undocumented status. Leadership in the House has changed, and it’s time for the House to lead. Tell the House that a year is too long to wait and that action is needed today on immigration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

287(g) and Morristown, New Jersey

A dispatch from SAALT’s New Jersey Outreach Coordinator, Qudsia Raja, on state and local enforcement of immigration laws and what it means in NJ.

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As advocates and communities nationwide mobilize to campaign for more just and humane immigration laws in the US, New Jersey residents prepare to cope with the actualization of tentatively discriminatory mandates that will, if put into place, adversely affect the immigrant community in the state. 287(g), a federal immigration program initiated by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allows for local law enforcement agencies to go beyond their call of duty of enforcing local and state laws by additionally allowing them the liberty to enforce federal immigration laws.

Earlier this year, several counties in New Jersey, including Morris, Hudson, and Monmouth Counties, applied to become a part of the 287(g) program. Morristown was approved for the program last month, and Mayor David Cresitello has every intention of signing onto the program, which would be in effect for 3 years.

The idea of deputizing local law enforcement agencies has long been controversial, with strong advocates on both ends of the debate holding firm to their beliefs on whether the program should or should not be put into place. SAALT, like many other immigrant advocates locally and nationwide, believes that 287(g) does in fact negatively impact the immigrant community at large. By deputizing law enforcement, we would essentially be creating a barrier between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn in to serve – an irony so obvious that I can’t seem to understand why some public officials are so adamant about putting the mandate into place.

Consider this. New Jersey is not only home to a large, diverse, and emerging immigrant community, but also thrives economically because of the contributions of this very community, according to a report published earlier this year by Rutgers University. As an emerging community, however, coming from numerous cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, it’s important for us as public officials, advocates, service providers and community members to be mindful of the needs of our fellow community members. These needs could range from being aware of cultural and linguistic needs in accessing basic government and public services; navigation the school, medical, and legal systems; and addressing racial and religious discrimination targeted towards immigrant communities, often more vulnerable when they are unable to communicate because they are limited-English proficient (LEP), or because they are unaware of the proper channels available to them to report incidences and crimes of the sort. Additionally, many immigrants migrate from countries where the rule of law is often corrupt, making them fearful of approaching (or being approached by) law enforcement.

287(g) has been criticized by immigrant advocates for many justified reasons, one of the most disconcerting being that the mandate would allow for local law enforcement to essentially profile immigrant constituents in the process of making arrests based on ‘suspicion’. It will detract from their job of keeping the peace in local communities and protecting constituents by creating a sense of fear amongst the immigrant community of being rounded up by the police based on the color or their skin, or the accents in speech.

Recently, New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram issued a strongly worded letter to Hudson, Morris, and Monmouth County officials warning them to not use 287(g) as a mechanism to racially profile constituents. Additionally, she made clear that the mandate does not allow for sweeps or ‘on-the-street-encounters’, where law enforcement uses round ups as a means to conduct immigration checks, and that any incidences of violating NJ laws will be dealt with by the AG’s office.

All that aside, though, what does it really mean to be an immigrant in New Jersey, where 287(g) may tentatively be put into place?

Imagine this. You are an immigrant mother of two. You speak limited English, and rely on your husband to deal with the intricacies of life outside of your home. You have been in this country for many years, and your children are enrolled in the local school system. Your husband sponsored you to migrate to this country when you first married. You find yourself in an abusive relationship, and consider reaching out to the police to intervene. However, your husband tells you that reporting him to the police will result in your deportation, that they’ll take away her children and she’ll never see them again. So, you weigh out the pros and cons, and somehow justify staying in a violent marriage for the sake of your children, and for the fear of being deported back to your country of origin, where you may face even more violence for leaving your husband. Somehow, the thought of daily violence isn’t as bad as the thought of approaching the police, the threat of deportation and separation from your children looming overhead.

Imagine this. You are a second-generation immigrant. You are Muslim, with a very common first and last name. You are driving late at night on your way home, and you are pulled over because you are speeding. Along with your license and your registration, you are asked for your immigration papers – something you don’t carry around with you, because you are a legal resident and you tell them this much. You are asked to come to the station. You grudgingly comply, thinking of it as an inconvenience, but that you will be out as soon as they run your name through the system. Your name, a common one, shows up with some alarming news attached to it. You tell them it’s a mistake, and that you are in fact not that individual. You are detained for several hours, perhaps days, as they sort out the situation and realize that you are in fact not who they think you are. In the meantime, you are not allowed to make a call to family members or a lawyer, and no one knows of your whereabouts. You are told that this is normal procedure – a criminal until proven innocent. You are let out eventually, but with a bitter taste in your mouth in regards to local law enforcement. You know you will think twice about approaching them should a problem arise in the future, if only to avoid the painful and humiliating process they have just subject you to.

Imagine hundreds of other scenarios that immigrant constituents will face should 287(g) go into affect. Imagine being racially profiled and being treated like a criminal. Imagine being fearful of the police when you need them most, when you are placed in a dangerous situation, but the fear (be it real or imagined) of being deported holds you back from calling for help.

Is this the sort of community you want to be a part of?

Due Process: What it Means for South Asian Immigrants

This post was previously published at the Asian Pacific Americans for Progress blog as part of the Asian Pacific American Week of Action on immigration reform.

Before I started law school, I had definitely heard the term “due process.” I have to confess, though, I wasn’t really sure what it meant. All I knew is that it sounded good, seemed to be a core American value, and was rooted in fairness. It was something that this country prided itself on as a hallmark principle that came down from our Founding Fathers.

When we talk about immigration, there is often talk about due process violations affecting the lives of immigrants, but what does that really mean? Of course, we could always turn to our trusted friend, the Webster’s Dictionary for some guidance: “legal proceedings that are carried out following established rules and laws that result in unfair or arbitrary treatment of individuals.” (The legal eagles among us can rely upon the definitive Black’s Law Dictionary for some fancier and technical language, too.) But these lofty and abstract definitions did not hold much traction for me. It wasn’t until I encountered the real life experiences of immigrants whose due process rights were violated that I understood why this value is so dear and needs to be protected in our country’s immigration system.

Below are just a few examples spotlighting South Asians seeking asylum that made clear to what due process (or the lack thereof) truly means.

Due process means access to legal representation and legal information: Monisha, originally from Pakistan, was an honors graduate from UC Berkeley who came from Mumbai to Texas to seek asylum with her parents and brother when she was ten years old. While in India, her father was very involved in the local Muslim community – as a result of his activities, thier family became the target of Hindu fundamentalist groups. They were denied asylum because their attorneys failed to meet necessary filing deadlines. Immigration authorites later arrested her parents and brother and placed them in deportation proceedings. Navigation the complex world of immigration law is often worse for those who do not have lawyers and have to represent themselves because immigrants facing deportation are not guaranteed an attorney. Does it seem fair that accurate legal information and competent representation is often unattainable particularly when the immigration system is so complicated?

Due process means ensuring that immigrants are not criminalized and placed in detention: Harpal, a Sikh man, chose to be deported back to India where he had been tortured, rather than languish in limbo in immigration detention. When he arrived in the U.S., he settled in the Bay Area, began working as a truck driver, and applied for asylum. He was later arrested by U.S. government and immigration officials. After being detained for more than eight years in California, much of it in solitary confinement, and tired of waiting for Convention Against Torture claim to be resolved in the courts, he decided to return to a country where officials had previously mistreated him severely. Does it seem fair to lock up individuals for years who have committed no crime and are waiting excessive period of time for their immigration cases to be resolved?

Due process means guaranteeing fairness of immigration court proceedings and case review on appeal: A Sri Lankan woman fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka was denied asylum by an immigration judge who did not believe her case simply because she was “looking up at the ceiling” during testimony. The judge ignored detailed evidence of her fear of return and based denial on this minor point about her demeanor. Even worse, the appellate body, the Board of Immigration Appeals, did not disagree with the judge’s ruling. It was not until a federal court reviewed her case that the initial judge was ordered to consider her case more thoroughly. Does it seem fair that the safety and lives of immigrants depend upon often arbitrary and unfair decisions that can occur in Immigration Courts and are given limited review?

These are just a few stories that you find replicating themselves within the South Asian community that convey in real terms what the lack of due process looks like. As immigration reform moves forward, it is crucial that due process and fundamental fairness be restored to policies and procedures that affect the lives of so many immigrants in this country.

Sci-Fi Age of E-Verify

I recently attended a session at the Migrant Policy Institute that focused on E-Verify, the system that would require employees to verify their identities and legal status through an electronic program. The Migrant Policy Institute discussion focused on possible ways to expand this system and perhaps better it for everyone involved. The only people who don’t seem to benefit from the expansion of E-Verify are the employees. They would have to jump through additional hoops to maintain or obtain employment.

I was more than a little surprised by the types of solutions offered by MPI to improve E-Verify, as they seemed very invasive and expensive, not to mention Big Brotherish. Possible solutions included biometric cards and registering for a personalized PIN that would be provided to employers who could then access a database that verified identities.

While MPI said it was trying to address issues of identity fraud in order to protect employees, I really don’t think that the workers’ interests are at the heart of these proposals or the E-Verify system. Another concern is how E-Verify might be used to check the statuses of current established employees as well as new-hires, which would require people settled in their employment to go over the same hurdles as a new-hire. There must be a better way to regulate employment practices than to strike fear in the hearts of immigrant employees who just want to create a new life for themselves and their families.