Indians on hunger strike in El Paso may be released from detention

indica News Bureau-


Two Indian men who were on hunger strike for 74 days until last week demanding that they be freed from a detention center here pending a decision on their appeals for asylum are likely to be freed soon, the BBC has reported.

Ajay Kumar, 33, and Gurjant Singh, 34, entered the United States through Mexico and turned themselves over to the US Border Patrol seeking asylum. They have since spent a year in detention.

They are among more than 9,000 Indians apprehended by the Border Patrol in 2018, almost three times as many as in 2017. A large number of them come from Punjab and Haryana while some are from Gujarat.

Both Ajay Kumar and Gurjant Singh have claimed that they were being persecuted by political rivals back home. Both were on hunger strike until last week protesting against their detention.

A month into their hunger strike, a court-ordered that they are force-fed to keep them alive. The detainees have said the procedure was not just painful, but also humiliating as it was carried out in the presence of other hunger strikers.

Ajay Kumar’s appeal for asylum is pending before the US Board of Immigration Appeals while Gurjant Singh has challenged an immigration judge’s order rejecting his appeal and sought a new hearing with a “fair and impartial judge”.

Immigration officials in the US have the power to detain or release single adult asylum seekers while their cases are being heard.

Most of the Indians apprehended by the Border Patrol seek asylum, but many of them face rejection of their appeals. More than 7,000 Indian asylum seekers were sent back from the US between 2015 and 2017, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Ajay Kumar, who hails from Haryana, has said he was involved with an opposition party in the state which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He claimed that his sister was the target of an acid attack while his father was murdered while Ajay was in detention in the US.

“It is difficult to bring corroborative evidence to prove your claims when you are under detention,” Ajay Kumar’s attorney Linda Corchado told the BBC.

Gurjant Singh, who hails from Punjab, has also claimed that he was involved with a political party and beaten up several times on account of his activities and threatened with death if he did not join an opposition party.

Attorneys visiting El Paso earlier this year found at least 200 men with Indian surnames in detention centers.

According to activists working to help these people, the main problems the detainees face are the language barrier, denial of religious accommodation, medical neglect, solitary confinement and denial of parole or release on bond. As a result, hunger strikes are becoming common. At least 13 Indian men have been on hunger strike and have had to be force-fed this year alone.