5 South Asian men in detention reach 75th day of hunger strike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Jan­u­ary 16, 2020

JENA, LOUISIANA — Five South Asian men have reached the 75th day of a hunger strike in the GEO Group-oper­at­ed LaSalle Deten­tion Facil­i­ty in Jena, Louisiana where they have been sub­ject­ed to the tor­tu­ous pro­ce­dure of forced-hydra­tion and force-feed­ing. Accord­ing to med­ical pro­fes­sion­als, 75 days with­out ade­quate nutri­tion is when vital organs begin to fail.

Free­dom for Immigrants(FFI) has filed two com­plaints with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (DHS) Office of Civ­il Rights and Civ­il Lib­er­ties (CRCL) on behalf of the five men, demand­ing DHS address the sys­temic civ­il rights vio­la­tions the men have faced under ICE cus­tody. FFI along­side Deten­tion Watch Network(DWN), South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Together(SAALT), local advo­cates, and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als in the Louisiana area are warn­ing the men are on the brink of death and call for their imme­di­ate release.

The first CRCL com­plaint calls on ICE to use its pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al dis­cre­tion to release all five men. Each of them have for­mal spon­sors in the Unit­ed States com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing and hous­ing them while they fight their asy­lum case.

The sec­ond com­plaint, sub­mit­ted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Physi­cians for Human Rights, address­es the sig­nif­i­cant delays in receiv­ing crit­i­cal med­ical records from ICE. Begin­ning in Novem­ber, an FFI affil­i­at­ed vol­un­teer sub­mit­ted mul­ti­ple requests to ICE for these records, with the con­sent of the men engag­ing in hunger strikes. How­ev­er, ICE has refused to release these records. With­out this crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion, inde­pen­dent physi­cians can­not con­duct an assess­ment of the med­ical treat­ment these men are receiv­ing while in deten­tion.

“Under ICE’s own poli­cies, peo­ple in deten­tion have the right to inde­pen­dent med­ical eval­u­a­tion. How­ev­er, staff at the LaSalle Deten­tion Facil­i­ty have denied our repeat­ed requests, which were made in line with their poli­cies, for accu­rate and updat­ed med­ical records. This makes it impos­si­ble for us to have a clear under­stand­ing of the hunger strik­ers’ cur­rent med­ical con­di­tions and com­plete­ly negates their access to inde­pen­dent eval­u­a­tions, which is espe­cial­ly cru­cial as they enter the crit­i­cal time in their hunger strike when vital organ func­tion­ing begins to shut down,” said Dr. Cather­ine Jones, MD, a licensed physi­cian in New Orleans.

Exter­nal med­ical review of indi­vid­u­als on hunger strikes is crit­i­cal giv­en ICE’s long his­to­ry of sys­temic med­ical neglect writ large and spe­cif­ic con­cerns with the treat­ment of hunger strik­ers in its cus­tody. On Octo­ber 2019, Dr. Parveen Par­mar, a licenced med­ical pro­fes­sion­al, reviewed the med­ical records of a man who had been on hunger strike for approx­i­mate­ly three months while detained at the El Paso ICE Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter. Upon review of the med­ical doc­u­ments Dr. Par­mar stat­ed that it was “the worst med­ical care I have seen in my 10 years of prac­tice.”

Per ICE’s own stan­dards, indi­vid­u­als in their cus­tody and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives are enti­tled to med­ical records. Free­dom for Immi­grants has iden­ti­fied licensed med­ical pro­fes­sion­als in the area who are will­ing to review the med­ical records.

State­ments:

“The men in Jena-LaSalle are on the brink of death. They would not have been forced to resort to a hunger strike if the con­di­tions of their deten­tion weren’t so bru­tal and they were released on bond. We are extreme­ly dis­turbed by the pat­terns of abuse we’ve been track­ing against South Asian asy­lum seek­ers in deten­tion since 2014. No one should have to go to such great lengths sim­ply to have their cas­es heard and to gain their free­dom. They should not be in deten­tion in the first place and the only legit­i­mate alter­na­tive is release,“ said Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Inter­im Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT.

“On a recent vis­it to the men on a hunger strike at LaSalle, I was ver­bal­ly told one man being force-fed had a blood pres­sure that was life-threat­en­ing­ly low. Because we do not have access to his med­ical record, it is impos­si­ble to ver­i­fy and ensure he is receiv­ing the nec­es­sary med­ical atten­tion. No one should be sub­ject to tor­ture for sim­ply seek­ing a bet­ter life for them­selves,” said Michelle Graf­feo, a vol­un­teer with a Free­dom for Immi­grants-affil­i­at­ed vis­i­ta­tion group in Louisiana.

“The grow­ing num­ber of hunger strikes in ICE pris­ons across the coun­try are no coin­ci­dence. It is indica­tive of com­plete dis­be­lief in a fair legal process and the lengths ICE is will­ing to go to indef­i­nite­ly detain them. Some of these men have been locked up for near­ly 2 years,. We are deeply con­cerned that ICE appears will­ing to let these men die in deten­tion to make an exam­ple of them rather than be released to com­mu­ni­ty, where each man has fam­i­ly or close friends will­ing to pro­vide hous­ing and sup­port,” said Sofia Casi­ni, south­ern region­al coor­di­na­tor at Free­dom for Immi­grants.

“These men are demand­ing free­dom after months in abu­sive ICE cus­tody. They are brave­ly protest­ing with the only mea­sure that they have con­trol over — their bod­ies, which even ICE is vio­lent­ly inter­fer­ing with through forced-hydra­tion and feed­ing. The answer here is clear and can be act­ed on imme­di­ate­ly: ICE must release these men from its cus­tody or risk respon­si­bil­i­ty for caus­ing pre­ventable deaths,” said Silky Shah, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Deten­tion Watch Net­work.

Con­tact: sophia@saalt.org

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The death of 6‑year-old Gurupreet Kaur

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 17, 2019

We are dev­as­tat­ed to learn of the death of 6‑year-old Gurupreet Kaur.

Gurupreet’s body was found by U.S. Bor­der Patrol agents in a remote desert out­side the Lukeville, Ari­zona point of entry on Wednes­day, June 12th, just days before her sev­enth birth­day.

She died of heat stroke in the Ari­zona desert where tem­per­a­tures were 108 degrees Fahren­heit, accord­ing to U.S. Bor­der Patrol and the Pima Coun­ty Office of the Med­ical Exam­in­er (PCOME).

Gurupreet and her moth­er were report­ed­ly among a group of five Indi­an nation­als who were dropped off by migrant traf­fick­ers in a remote area on the U.S.-Mexico bor­der. Her moth­er and anoth­er woman went in search of water, leav­ing Gurupreet with two oth­ers from the group. Gurupreet’s moth­er was found by a U.S. Bor­der Patrol agent 22 hours lat­er. Four hours after that, Bor­der Patrol agents found Gurupreet’s body.

Sev­en migrant chil­dren have died in immi­gra­tion cus­tody since last year. Hun­dreds more have died close to ports of entry while attempt­ing to make the per­ilous jour­ney through the desert along the U.S.-Mexico bor­der.

SAALT is send­ing a let­ter of inquiry to Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sion­er, Kevin K. McAleenan this week, demand­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion into Gurupreet’s death and infor­ma­tion about her moth­er and the oth­er migrants in their group.  

As U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion has esca­lat­ed bor­der enforce­ment and aggres­sive­ly turned away migrants attempt­ing to cross at ports of entry, deaths have con­tin­ued to mount. Migrants are forced right back into the dan­ger­ous con­di­tions that CBP and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies often blame on migrant traf­fick­ers and smug­glers.

Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Inter­im Co-Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT said, “U.S. bor­der mil­i­ta­riza­tion, forced migra­tion, and rejec­tion of migrants attempt­ing to cross at ports of entry have cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment where a child like Gurupreet, can die in the desert, alone. Until this sys­tem is com­plete­ly defund­ed and a new one is cre­at­ed that upholds the dig­ni­ty of all migrants — we will con­tin­ue to see unspeak­able tragedies, not with­stand­ing the count­less deaths that go undoc­u­ment­ed. While ICE and CBP have expe­ri­enced unprece­dent­ed surges in their bud­gets, their treat­ment of migrants has plunged to new lows.

SAALT has been track­ing both the rise in the num­ber of South Asians cross­ing the bor­der over the last 5 years and their treat­ment in deten­tion facil­i­ties. Between Octo­ber 2014 and April 2018, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP) arrest­ed over 17,000 South Asians.

Of the South Asians who end up in deten­tion facil­i­ties, SAALT has tracked a pat­tern of abuse includ­ing inad­e­quate lan­guage access, lack of reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions, med­ical neglect, use of soli­tary con­fine­ment, and unac­cept­ably high bond amounts.  

We urge our com­mu­ni­ties to stay engaged and active on this urgent issue.  

Stay updat­ed and active by fol­low­ing our updates and action alerts on Twit­ter (SAALTweets) and Face­book (facebook.com/talktosaalt).

You can also sup­port by donat­ing to these orga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide imme­di­ate assis­tance:

  • The Fron­ter­i­zo Fian­za Fund is a com­mu­ni­ty bond (fian­za) fund based in El Paso and serv­ing Far West Texas and New Mex­i­co. Many detained migrants have no chance to be released while they wait the months or years until their tri­al. When some­one does receive a bond, they are often way out of reach for most fam­i­lies, rang­ing any­where from $1,500–50,000.
  • The Flo­rence Immi­grant and Refugee Rights Project is the only orga­ni­za­tion in Ari­zona that pro­vides free legal and social ser­vices to detained men, women, and chil­dren under threat of depor­ta­tion.
  • The Refugee and Immi­grant Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion and Legal Ser­vices (RAICES) pro­motes jus­tice by pro­vid­ing free and low-cost legal ser­vices to under­served immi­grant chil­dren, fam­i­lies and refugees in Cen­tral and South Texas.
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Celebrating 5 Years! Take Two!

Con­tin­u­ing our series com­mem­o­rat­ing the fifth anniver­sary of the open­ing of SAALT’s first staffed office, let’s hear from two SAALT Board mem­bers, Lavanya Sithanan­dam and Anous­ka Ched­die (respec­tive­ly).

“Five years ago SAALT opened its first office and hired staff in New York City.  In that short time, SAALT has grown tremen­dous­ly.  My involve­ment with SAALT began dur­ing those same five years, and what this orga­ni­za­tion has giv­en me is invalu­able.   SAALT has pro­vid­ed me with the inspi­ra­tion and the tools to speak up as a physi­cian activist, advo­cat­ing on behalf of immi­grants both inside and out­side of my med­ical prac­tice.   I con­tin­ue to be inspired and moti­vat­ed by the hard work of the staff, the ded­i­ca­tion of the NCSO mem­bers, and the vision of the orga­ni­za­tion.  I feel con­fi­dent that SAALT will con­tin­ue its won­der­ful work over the next five years and will become an even stronger voice both with­in and out­side our South Asian com­mu­ni­ty.”

“SAALT is com­mu­ni­ty. It’s about col­lab­o­ra­tion.  SAALT is trust. It’s about par­tic­i­pa­tion.  SAALT is empow­er­ment. It’s about rep­re­sen­ta­tion. SAALT is inclu­sive. It’s about includ­ing the dias­po­ra.

With SAALT, I know that local grass­roots groups have a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion that they can work with to ensure our com­mu­ni­ty has a strong pro­gres­sive voice that is heard in DC and around the coun­try.

This is just the begin­ning.”

Celebrating 5 Years! Take Three!

We have more to come from our series com­mem­o­rat­ing five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office, but I want­ed to put in my two cents:

To me, SAALT is where we come togeth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty and fight for the change we want, both for our­selves but also in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties-of-strug­gle. SAALT is an open and inclu­sive hub that invites the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, allies and part­ners to envi­sion a world that is tru­ly free and equi­table. More­over, SAALT is vehi­cle to help indi­vid­u­als make these lofty aspi­ra­tions a real­i­ty. In five years, I see us doing this with ever more empow­ered, engaged peo­ple. This is only the begin­ning!

Intro to ISNA

This past July 4th week­end, the Islam­ic Soci­ety of North Amer­i­ca (ISNA) host­ed its 46th Annu­al Con­ven­tion in DC, fit­ting­ly named “Life, Lib­er­ty and the Pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness.” It was my first ISNA expe­ri­ence, and I was in awe of the huge crowd. Thou­sands of peo­ple were in atten­dance as var­i­ous speak­ers and pan­elists dis­cussed top­ics rel­e­vant to the mod­ern Amer­i­can Mus­lim. Many of those infor­ma­tive ses­sions were geared towards young peo­ple, as part of the MSA Nation­al and MYNA por­tions of the con­ven­tion. While there was def­i­nite­ly a strong inter­est in the ISNA Mat­ri­mo­ni­als event, many atten­dees were drawn to the DC Con­ven­tion Cen­ter by the dynam­ic speak­ers and the vari­ety of goods and art avail­able at the Bazaar.

It was excit­ing to see the num­ber of Mus­lims who came to DC for the event, and I was par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed by the num­ber of South Asians I observed attend­ing the con­ven­tion. Throngs of desis could be found in Chi­na­town restau­rants, out on DC streets, and strolling the Nation­al Mall. My own cousins came to DC for the first time from Cal­i­for­nia and Okla­homa specif­i­cal­ly for ISNA week­end, and they were sur­prised by the num­ber of South Asians in DC. So was I! While there are many South Asians liv­ing and work­ing in and near the Dis­trict, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place before. ISNA had a strong pull for our com­mu­ni­ty, with ses­sions geared specif­i­cal­ly towards South Asian Mus­lims, fea­tur­ing South Asian speak­ers or mod­er­at­ed by South Asians, as well as many, many bazaar stalls that were put up by South Asian small busi­ness own­ers and artists.

I liked that there were net­work­ing events, such as the Mus­lim Lawyers net­work­ing social that I attend­ed Fri­day night, and info ses­sions, such as the one about get­ting jobs at fed­er­al agen­cies, that involved Mus­lims help­ing oth­er Mus­lims. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, many of the faces at both those events were South Asian. It’s great to see peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty tak­ing inter­est in men­tor­ing oth­ers!

Daily Buzz 4.22.2009

1.) Delta Clos­es Indi­an Call Cen­ters After Com­plaints from Amer­i­can Cus­tomers

2.) One Pak­istani Amer­i­can’s Plight at Guan­tanamo

3.) New Report on Air­port Search­es of Mus­lim, South Asian, & Mid­dle East­ern Com­mu­ni­ties

4.) Brown Girl Mag­a­zine: Smart. Hip. Beau­ti­ful

5.) Mac & Cheese with Masala

Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ–South Asian Style!

Poon­am Patel, an intern at SAALT was in atten­dance for South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day in Tren­ton, NJ on March 16th. She shares her expe­ri­ence below. If you want to read more about the South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day, check out this great blog post by Son­ny Singh at the Sikh Coali­tion blog!

On Mon­day, March 16th, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to attend the first South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day in Tren­ton, New Jersey–an inspir­ing expe­ri­ence, to say the least. Grow­ing up in a tra­di­tion­al Indi­an fam­i­ly with the stig­ma that speak­ing to elect­ed offi­cials at any lev­el is fruit­less, it was reas­sur­ing to see leg­is­la­tors not only respon­sive to the issues dis­cussed but also will­ing to take action—research new means of solv­ing fun­da­men­tal prob­lems whether that involved sup­port­ing exist­ing leg­is­la­tion or intro­duc­ing new ideas.

One of the advo­cates talked about a project their orga­ni­za­tion had developed—grading pub­lic schools in a report card for­mat based on their cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy. The leg­is­la­tor that was pre­sent­ed with this idea not only agreed that it was a very effec­tive way of cre­at­ing aware­ness, but also asked for spe­cif­ic details so that the pro­gram could poten­tial­ly be imple­ment­ed in her dis­trict. While I was lis­ten­ing to this exchange take place, it became clear that inno­v­a­tive projects devel­oped by experts in their own fields com­bined with the gov­ern­ment resources can tru­ly have an affect on the com­mu­ni­ty at large.

Fur­ther­more, to see so many com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, advo­cates, and stu­dents col­lec­tive­ly dis­cuss the issues most rel­e­vant to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty shed light to the fact that they cross bound­aries of all sorts–gender, age, and nation­al ori­gin to name a few.  Even though the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty is so diverse in a num­ber of ways, there are sev­er­al issues we can all relate to such as devel­op­ing com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform or cre­at­ing cul­tur­al com­pe­tent resources for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. This is what was at the heart of Tren­ton Advo­ca­cy Day. It wasn’t about each indi­vid­ual advo­cat­ing some­thing unique, but a strong, col­lec­tive voice that caught the ears of state leg­is­la­tors.

Daily Buzz 3.16.09

1.) Indi­an – Amer­i­can Woman Elect­ed Inter­faith Con­fer­ence Pres­i­dent

2.) Pamela Roy’s Research with Young South Asian LGBTQ peo­ple: “India too will embrace gays.”.)

3.) For a Chef, a Com­fort Zone Among the Pots and Pans

4.) More Young Adults Are Seek­ing Part­ners of Same Eth­nic­i­ty

5.) TECH: List of Major South Asian Twit­ter Voic­es!