Asylum seekers endure parasites, disease

Packed facilities, long confinement linked to health and mental problems in multiple locations, including the one housing Indian asylum-seekers


Ritu Jha


Overcrowded prisons, including the Sheridan federal prison in Oregon that houses at least 52 Indian asylum-seekers, is host to a variety of diseases, according to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

John Kostelnik, president of the federation’s chapter 3969 said in a press note described as particularly egregious a federal correctional complex in Victorville in California, where there are confirmed reports of tuberculosis (TB), varicella (chicken pox), and scabies. Increased staffing shortages affect the safety of inmates, detainees, and officers alike. The overcrowding there is worse because the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency uses it to house immigrants.

Kostelink told the Huffington Post that the Sheridan federal prison in Oregon is facing similar issues, though on a smaller scale.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons public affairs office denied the above, said there have been no cases of chicken pox among Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Sheridan.  There were 11 cases of scabies among the ICE detainee population at FCI Sheridan, but all of those cases have been closed and are no longer active.

But an official at the Yamhill County Health and Human Services, under which the Sheridan facility falls, said she “cannot confirm nor deny” cases of chicken pox and scabies issues among Sheridan inmates.

But federal public defender Lisa Hay had said last month that the Bureau of Prisons had canceled her visit due to a scabies outbreak.

A BoP press release confirmed this, saying, “On Monday, June 14, 2018, the Bureau of Prisons medical staff confirmed and isolated eleven cases of scabies among the immigration detainee population at FCI Sheridan’s detention center. The facility is taking the necessary precautionary measures to protect staff, inmates and the community from the possibility of being exposed to this virus.”

Jagtar Singh, president of the local Dasmesh Darbar gurdwara in Salem, said he was not aware of the outbreak but said that while gurdwara officials have not been allowed inside the prison yet they hope to be allowed in next week. He told indica that prison officials had picked up copies of the Sukhmani Sahib, a collection of hymns by Guru Arjan, and some headscarves.

Jai Singh, field organizer at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), a statewide, grassroots organization, uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice told indica his own application to enter the Sheridan detention center has been denied twice.

He said APANO hosted a protest ‘Interfaith Service of Solidarity’ on July 8 to keep up the pressure. According to APANO there 70 detainees from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, reportedly separated from their families, in the prison.

The officer at the FCI Sheridan spokesperson declined to discuss the matter with indica, describing it as the matter for the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Sarah Armstrong, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Oregon, said that while a judge has directed the government to allow the attorneys to enter, the process was being slowed by prison officials. ACLU Oregon had filed an emergency lawsuit to put an immediate end to the unconstitutional denial of attorney access to the detainees housed in the prison.

“We are working on it but there is definitely more to know about the detainees. Unfortunately, we don’t have more [information] yet,” she told indica. The concern is that detainees are triple-bunked in a 75 square foot cell and are locked up for 22 or 23 hours per day, resulting in severe psychological distress.

According to public defender Hay, “I heard reports of panic attacks, breathing problems, headaches, stress and depression.”

Gujari Singh of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, based in Washington DC, told indica, that illegally crossing the border is considered a misdemeanor.

“There is a lot of confusion right now. We don’t know right now how they [the asylum-seekers in Sheridan] came to this country, and if they are having the right paperwork,” Gujari said.


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