Men who Sustained 80-day Hunger Strike Released from El Paso Detention Facility

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.

Quotes:

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.”

Con­tact: Sophia@saalt.org

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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

Elections ’08: Roadmap to the White House, now translated!

One of the things we here at SAALT are always try­ing to do is make sure that, as much as pos­si­ble, the infor­ma­tion and resources we put out is as acces­si­ble to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. SAALT’s Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Strength, out­lines that lim­it­ed Eng­lish pro­fi­cien­cy rates are between 20% to 50% in South Asian com­mu­ni­ties, with rates increas­ing as income lev­els decrease (Won­der­ing what “lim­it­ed Eng­lish pro­fi­cien­cy” means? It refers to the abil­i­ty to read, speak, and write Eng­lish less than “very well.”)

With that in mind, SAALT strives to trans­late some of our most rel­e­vant mate­ri­als into South Asian lan­guges so that lim­it­ed Eng­lish pro­fi­cient indi­vid­u­als can take advan­tage of our resources. One exam­ple is What You Need to Know to Become a US Cit­i­zen (trans­lat­ed into Bangla, Hin­di and Gujarati). We are also pleased to announce the trans­la­tion of one of our new Elec­tions ’08 doc­u­ments, Roadmap to the White House, into Bangla, Hin­di, Pun­jabi, Tamil and Urdu). It’s a great resource to use by any­one to learn about the process­es of the elec­tion cycle. Orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als are wel­come to use it for out­reach and edu­ca­tion with­in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. Please feel free to down­load these doc­u­ments and dis­trib­ute them.

Check out these oth­er resources by SAALT on issues fac­ing lim­it­ed Eng­lish pro­fi­cient South Asians!