Georgia detainees

Members of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta, along with the South Asian Bar Association of Georgia, and Indian American community activists held a press conference to call attention to a hunger strike launched by several Sikh asylum seekers being held at the Folkston, Georgia ICE Processing Center. “The asylum seekers were put in solitary confinement and tortured by ICE officers,” Javeria Jamil, director of legal services at AAJC Atlanta, alleged to India-West. (AAJC-Atlanta photo)

Several Sikh asylum seekers who went on a hunger strike at the Folkston, Georgia ICE Processing Center to protest their indefinite detention, were allegedly tortured by ICE officers.

Javeria Jamil, Pakistani American director of legal services at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta, told India-West that the Sikh protestors, who were forced to quit their strike in mid-July, were held in solitary confinement with the air conditioning cranked up to create unbearably cold temperatures. The Sikh detainees did not receive warm clothing to counter the effects of the frigid temperature, said Jamil. “They were being tortured by ICE officers,” she alleged.

Officials at the Folkston detention center had not returned several calls for comment by press time.

“All of these men are running away from persecution in India; they have this idea of coming to the U.S. to be free and to escape persecution. They come here and are told ‘you’re not welcome,’” said Jamil, noting that most of the men who went on the hunger strike have been in ICE detention since December 2017.

The men, most in their 20s and 30s, have had to leave family behind in India. Many have traversed the long journey from Mexico by foot to arrive at the U.S. border.

None of the men has received a bond hearing in the eight months they have been detained. A bond hearing, allowed to those who have established a credible fear of persecution by the home country, would allow the men to stay with their families in the U.S. until their asylum cases are heard.

“They feel very hopeless and uncertain of their future, sitting in detention for eight months,” Jamil told India-West. She noted that the men have been moved to other facilities in Georgia with the aim of separating them to break up the hunger strike. Thirty to 50 Sikh asylum seekers are being held at various ICE detention centers in Georgia, she said.

Indian American attorney Deepak Ahluwalia, who works extensively on Sikh asylum cases, and serves on the Sikh Coalition’s advisory board, told India-West earlier this month that bond hearings are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Moreover, most requests for release on bond are being denied, he said.

Prior to the advent of the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the government had to show a high legal standard for detaining someone for over six months, and had to allow them to be released on bond if the government could not prove its case. Now, it is very difficult to be released on bond, said Ahluwalia.

Atlanta’s grant rate for asylum is just two percent, said Jamil. Those who are denied asylum are held in detention until travel documents are obtained from the Indian government, a process that can take several months.

On June 26, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, the South Asian Bar Association of Georgia, and members of the Sikh community held a press conference to call attention to the hunger strike and to demand that ICE release the detainees to sponsors and U.S. family members until their asylum cases were heard.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and this type of treatment impacts our entire community. The Sikh community of Georgia is deeply concerned and urges a closer examination of the current situation to make sure that each and every detainee is receiving fair and equal treatment under the law,” said Inderpreet Singh, a Sikh community leader, in a statement released after the press conference.

Waqar Khwaja, a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Georgia, noted: “ICE has denied bond and deprived individuals with the right to seek attorneys to help out with their cases.”

“Such due process violations impede the ability of detained families to effectively apply for asylum while detained, creating situations contrary to the public interest in which bona fide refugees are returned to face continued persecution, including death, in their countries of origin,” said Khwaja.

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