The condition of the detainees of Indian origin on hunger strike at El Paso Service Processing Center in Texas are becoming dire, according to civil rights groups.
According to the Sikh Coalition, its team, which visited the center last month, found that most of the detainees, who are from the state of Punjab in India, are so weak they cannot even stand for long. Some of them have been held at the facility for more than 20 months.
The organization sent a team that included Amrith Kaur, an attorney; Inderpreet Kaur, its community development manager; and also Ruby Kaur, a Michigan-based immigration attorney, joined the Sikh Coalition and other organizations to seek information about the detainees mainly Sikh, who are on hunger strike since early January 2019.”
Amrith told indica, “Our goal in going there was to really get an understanding of conditions in the detention center and of those seeking asylum.” She said they found that the Indian detainees seeking asylum are being treated differently from detainees from other countries.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement informed indica that prisoners were being force-fed based on a court order.
Amrith said several factors led to the detainees to go on hunger strike.
“We received reports that ICE provides documents … which are either in English and Spanish,” Amrith said. Legally, she said, the government is expected to provide provided these in the language the detainees understand.
“We have a report that was never happening. We continue investigating that,” Amrith said, explaining that detainees of Indian origin often understood neither English nor Spanish. She added that documents informing detainees of their rights in languages they could not understand would also be illegal.
Leticia Zamarripa, spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told indica(Feb.13 indicanews.com), that nine individuals in ICE facility remain on hunger strike and were being hydrated and fed non-consensually under federal court orders.
“At each meal, ICE medical staff offers the hunger strikers the option of voluntarily drinking their meal supplements and still remain on hunger strike. But they refuse to eat,” she said.
On February 13, a US district judge ordered the government to stop force-feeding two of the detainees.
Amrith said the team was initially refused permission to visit the Sikh detainees at both the El Paso and Otero detention facilities but were later permitted.
The detainees were not allowed to meet alone even with their lawyers, she said. There were two to three ICE guards in the room in Otero all the time, making a private conversation impossible.
Amrith said the people at El Paso were weak.
“All 10 of them and four of us were in a room, 6-by-8 feet,” she said. “The hunger strikers, frankly, I don’t think they had physical ability to stand. They looked so weak.”
According to her, the hunger strikers are also upset that the requirements of their religion are ignored.
And there was the slow process they faced.
“They left their country and made their way to America and almost none of them was granted a bond. One was granted bond, and it was very high,” Amrith said. The figure was $25,000, unattainable for those left their country with nothing, she said, adding that people from other countries were granted bonds more quickly and for lower sums or none at all.
“The only way they could protest in the limited capacity they have is to go on a hunger strike,” Amrith said.
Meanwhile, South Asian Americans Leading Together released a press note quoting Nathan Craig of Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention as saying that the health of the remaining men appear to be worsening. Craig visited one of the men on hunger strike in the facility this Sunday.
On February 8, 27 immigrant and civil rights groups had sent an oversight letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen demanding the immediate release of the nine men who had been on hunger strike and for an investigation into the facility. According to the press note, DHS has not responded to the letter.