Sikh detainees released

Following an 80-day hunger strike, two Sikh asylum seekers from India were released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Otero County, New Mexico Processing Center. While in custody, the men were reportedly force-fed through nasal tubes, a practice that has recently been introduced to deter hunger strikes throughout the U.S. In a press statement, Kiran Kaur Gill, SALDEF’s Indian American executive director, stated: “The abuse sustained by these individuals was cruel and unusual punishment for individuals who wanted to become U.S. citizens. (representational image of video via the Otero County Sheriff’s Office)

Two Sikh asylum seekers from India were released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Otero County, New Mexico Processing Center, after undergoing an 80-day hunger strike, during which they were allegedly forcibly fed via nasal tubes.

The Associated Press reported that ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa confirmed April 11 that Jasvir Singh and Rajandeep Singh were released on bond. The AP reported that the men were released from the El Paso, Texas ICE detention center, but Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund spokeswoman Gujari Singh told India-West that both men had been moved from El Paso, and were released in New Mexico.

Both Singhs were part of a group of nine Indian asylum seekers who had embarked on a hunger strike at the El Paso Service Processing Center, who were known as the ‘El Paso Nine.’

ICE released both men on bond after consistent pressure from Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, Texas in the House, according to SALDEF.

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 El Paso, they reported regular physical, verbal, and psychological abuse at the hands of facility guards, according to SALDEF reports.

In a press statement, Kiran Kaur Gill, SALDEF’s executive director, stated: “The abuse sustained by these individuals was cruel and unusual punishment for individuals who wanted to become U.S. citizens. Having been on the ground and seeing first hand these men in detention, I was shocked by the inhumane treatment and lack of medical attention that was visibly needed.”

“ICE’s lack of oversight on detainees is abhorrent and clearly problematic. It’s time to take a hard look at our detention practices and make sure we put human dignity and respect at the forefront of our immigration policies,” said the Indian American executive.

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, reported SALDEF.

Jasvir and Rajandeep Singh had been held at El Paso since November 2018.

The Sikh Coalition April 1 sent a letter to ICE and the Office of the Inspector General alleging that Sikhs on hunger strikes at various ICE detention centers were being ill-treated.

“We have received reports indicating they were subjected to extremely cruel physical and verbal treatment while undergoing this procedure,” said the organization, noting that the nasal tubes were much larger than those normally used in force feeding, which exposed the detainees to a greater degree of pain.

The Sikh Coalition alleged the hunger strikers were forcibly held down by staff members who placed their knees and elbows on the detainees to hold them still.

“We also received reports that staff members stepped on or held tubes during feeding procedures so that the liquid went through the tubes and into the men’s noses much faster than it should. The speed causes increased pressure, which has led to excessive pain and bleeding in some instances, as well as scarring,” said the Sikh Coalition in its letter. (See earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2IuX64p)

The Sikh Coalition also reported that asylum seekers were being subjected to excessively long periods of detention, in violation of due process provisions guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

In related news, incoming Attorney General William Barr has rolled back a policy on granting bond to migrants seeking asylum, placing thousands of people in indefinite detention as they wait for their cases to be heard.

In a decision issued April 16, Barr directed immigration judges not to release migrants on bail, even if they have passed a ‘credible fear’ interview, which establishes that they are subject to persecution or torture in their home country.

In 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions greatly narrowed the scope of migrants who could be eligible to receive asylum. Sessions excluded those who were tortured or persecuted by private actors, such as gangs or religious terror groups. He also excluded women who were victims of spousal abuse.

AP adds: After The Associated Press revealed ICE was force-feeding nine immigrant detainees through nasal tubes in January, the facility stopped the controversial practice under public pressure. The United Nations human rights office said in February that the force-feeding of immigrant hunger strikers there could violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Immigration judges initially ordered that both men be deported. Their uncle Amrit Singh said they will appeal their immigration cases and join family in California. One man’s attorney said an appeal already was filed.

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