gurbani kaur

Indian American activist Gurbani Kaur (inset photo) writes about Sikh asylum seekers who are being subject to inhumane treatment at the El Paso, Texas Detention Center. (photos courtesy of Witness Against Torture and Gurbani Kaur)

In President Trump’s State of the Union Address, he boldly stated, “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.” Trump visits El Paso today, Feb. 11, where he’ll be rallying up his base in the Coliseum around a border wall and border security—just blocks away from the U.S. Mexico border.

The truth is, El Paso was one of the safest cities in America before the wall was built. And the city is far less safe for the asylum seekers, refugees, and others languishing in its detention facilities. 

There, and in other similar facilities along the entire Southern border, life is full of suffering as they face prolonged detention, uncertainty, and abuse at the hands of guards and medical staff. 

As long as this inhumane treatment continues, our president has no business rallying support around the notion of safety in El Paso. 

As the child of refugees from the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide in India and a future physician, I am deeply disturbed by the continued abuse of the 11 Sikh men detained in El Paso. 

Those men – sons, brothers, fathers – have been on hunger strike for over 40 days. Most are being violently force-fed by ICE officials at the notorious El Paso Service Processing Center and under threat of imminent deportation. (See India-West story here:

Under a court order (which has yet to be released publicly), an American judge ruled last month that nine of the 11 hunger strikers could be force-fed. Multiple times a day, these men are restrained, feeding tubes are forced through their noses, down their throats and into their stomachs. Liquids are delivered directly through IVs in their arms. 

An attorney representing a number of the hunger strikers has heard that they are suffering from rectal and nasal bleeding alongside persistent, crippling stomach and throat pain. Poorly administered IVs have left deep bruises on their arms.

Worse, last week, those nine men were thrown into solitary confinement. Their crime – refusing to be force-fed standing up.

To put it bluntly: these men are being tortured at the hands of the facility staff. The United Nations last week issued a statement voicing concern that their treatment might be contravening the UN convention against torture.

The majority of the hunger strikers have been told they are facing imminent deportation. 

This situation has escalated to this level because the asylum seekers have largely been denied bond hearings, which would enable them to be released from detention while awaiting their asylum cases. 

2016 BuzzFeed article reported that 83% of Indians facing deportation were imprisoned, the largest percentage from any country. 

President Trump is in El Paso to distract the public from the truth – the truth is that his Administration terrorizes immigrant communities and pits them against “American born” low-income and working class citizens.

As a native of rural, rust-belt, and working class regions of Ohio, I have seen politicians try to galvanize support amongst the rural working class by appealing to a fear of immigrants time and time again.

And as a Sikh American who comes from a family who fled persecution in India, I know that discriminating against the “other” makes no one safer. El Paso and every other city in this country can only begin to be safe when those living there and those arriving there are treated humanely and given due process – no matter where they’re coming from.

(Gurbani Kaur is an Indian American SAALT youth leader and Sikh activist. SAALT has been working closely with the attorney of many of the asylum seekers and has been tracking civil rights violations at this El Paso facility since 2014.)

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