Indian officials to go again after being denied access to Oregon asylum-seekers
Indian asylum seekers held in a federal facility in Oregon may have justifiable grievances about persecution but their country’s officials are still making efforts to help them, however, futile those might be.
The officials from the consulate in San Francisco went to see the 52 people held by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon. Oregon lawmakers who visited them described them as enduring inhuman conditions. But the officials were denied access.
Asked why they went to meet the asylum-seekers, the consul general, Ambassador Venkatesh Ashok, said whatever the asylum-seekers say about their country, “They are still Indian.” He said they may not even want to meet Indian officials but it was the consulate’s normal procedure to seek information.
“We will send the officials again next week,” he said.
A representative of the Indian embassy in Washington DC was more circumspect, saying, “We are monitoring the situation.” But embassy officials will also be visiting a New Mexico center where Indians are being held.
According to the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) a grassroots non-profit organization monitoring the situation, the men are being held three to a cell. They are only allowed out for 15 minutes at a time, three times every day. They also eat in their cells, right by an open toilet. They are made to wear orange jumpsuits. They have ankle and wrist shackles put on when they met the federal public defender.
“The detainees have culturally specific needs that are not being met – including translation services, legal assistance, and religious services. Isolating them from these resources is both illegal and inhumane,” Jai Singh, an APANO field organizer told indica.
“They have rights as asylum seekers that are being neglected,” Singh said and added, “Seeking asylum is not a crime. Choosing to detain our communities in a federal prison and, in essence, criminalizing them is racist.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 123 asylum seekers are at the detention center – 52 Punjabi- or Hindi-speaking Indians, 13 Nepalis and two Bangladeshis.
June 22, ACLU, Oregon has filed an emergency lawsuit against Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, in the US District Court in Portland to immediately end the unconstitutional denial of attorney access to detainees in the Sheridan prison.
The emergency lawsuit asks that officials be forced to drop all actions that prevent attorneys from visiting or communicating with the detainees.
The ACLU asserted that these actions violate the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the First Amendment, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Immigration, Nationality Act, and federal detention standards.
“Incarcerating immigrants in a federal prison is a highly unusual move and unprecedented for Oregon,” Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon, said through a press note. “Denying these men access to counsel – -at a time that they need it most to prepare for interviews with immigration officials or appearing before an immigration judge – is as outrageous as it is unconstitutional. For an asylum seeker, this could mean the difference between life and death.”
According to the lawsuit, in early June 2018, the federal government began transferring noncitizens to the Sheridan prison from other parts of the country.
Local resident, Gurpreet Kaur, a therapy assistant by profession, who is working to offer support to the detainees, told indica, “The biggest concern is that ICE is completely blocking all kinds of assistance to the detainees. Looks like they’ll hold them here until their cases are processed or they’re deported.”
She pointed out that, “they’re seeking asylum on the basis of religious or political persecution and oppression.”
According to an LA Times report, “South Asians have become some of the biggest users of this expanding immigration pipeline. In the 11 months ending in August 2016, at least 4,060 Bangladeshis, Indians, Nepalis, and Pakistanis traveled to the US along this route, compared with just 225 seven years earlier, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics. Of those, 3,604 were arrested while crossing illegally, nearly a fourfold increase from 2012.”
South Asians have attempted to make it to the US through Mexico, the 2014 story of the El Paso 37 being a case in point. Then, many South Asians were detained in El Paso, Texas. The same location was in the news again in 2016 after a group of Bangladeshis had a similar experience there.