Oregon asylum lawsuit

Indian national Karandeep Singh is one of eight asylum seekers who had been released on bond from the Sheridan federal prison in Oregon. Indian American spokeswoman for SALDEF Gujari Singh told India-West earlier that the men were “not allowed phone access, and no orientation or sufficient explanation of why they are there and what happens next.” (Doug Brown/ACLU Oregon photo via Twitter)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Two asylum seekers who were detained at a federal prison in western Oregon have filed a lawsuit contending the Trump administration violated religious protections.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Pachattar Singh and Gurpreet Singh filed the federal lawsuit Nov. 1 saying they weren't allowed to follow customs of their Sikh religion at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

“While detained at Sheridan, asylum-seeking detainees of the Sikh faith were denied a vegetarian diet, and many were forced to eat meat to avoid malnutrition and starvation,'' the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs were told to pray in their cells, but their religious beliefs do not allow them to pray in a room with a toilet, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said those are violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The current status and whereabouts of the plaintiffs was unclear.

The federal government hasn't responded to the lawsuit.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement in late May sent more than 120 detainees from the U.S. southern border to Sheridan. The agency said it needed space for up to 1,600 detainees after the Trump administration announced a zero-tolerance immigration policy. Detainees were also sent to Texas, California, Washington and Arizona.

Other attorneys working to release the detainees said few, if any, of the detainees were serving a criminal sentence but were housed in a criminal setting in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons made some improvements in the housing and food for detainees at Sheridan, the lawsuit said, but restrictions remained. The last Sikh detainee at Sheridan was released in late September.

“Plaintiffs' inability to freely exercise these religious beliefs was a cause of immeasurable distress for them,'' the lawsuit said. (See earlier India-West story here.)

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