Have been detained for around a year in El Paso.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: Over 40 Sikh asylum seekers from India are on hunger strike at an immigration outpost in El Paso, Texas, in order to draw attention to their plight as they struggle to be allowed legal entry into the US.
According to a report from the El Paso Times, the 43 men began their hunger strike on Tuesday, April 8, some ten months after first coming to the US, and subsequently arrested. All the men are between the ages of 22 and 27, and claim they fled India out of fear of being victimized by religious violence. Originally from the state of Punjab, the men were part of a minority political party that was being targeted by police and other citizens, prompting them to flee, they said.
They made it to the US last summer, but rather than being processed, questioned, and ultimately allowed into the US or deported, the men have languished in El Pasoâ€™s US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center. Although itâ€™s not unusual for some asylum seekers to spend a few months in ICE facilities as they wait to be allowed into the US, having them stay for this long is highly irregular.
A spokesperson for the ICE told the El Paso Times that cultural and Sikh faith leaders have been brought in to consult on the hunger strike, with the hope that they can talk these men into eating and holding out hope that they will be allowed into the US. Most men have passed the â€œcredible fearâ€ test administered as part of the process to verify asylum claims, but they remain in holding, and there is no end in sight.
Now, however, the number of men still striking has reduced considerably. According to numbers from the Sikh Coalition, which were shared with The American Bazaar, 28 men ended their participation in the strike on Monday, April 14, while a further seven began eating again yesterday. Six men have been admitted to the hospital within the ICE detention facility.
Some of the men are being kept in jail-like settings, even though they have committed no crime and are entitled to fairer treatment, said the Sikh Coalition. Five men are being kept in a â€œbarracksâ€ called LO-AHA, which is a 5×10-foot holding cell with nothing more than a cot and toilet.
Attorney John Lawit, who represents the entire body of Sikh men in the facility, said that he has been in contact with several lawmakers in Washington, DC, to see if they can help â€œparole these detainees.â€
For now, a small number of detainees are still striking, but the number is dwindling and may come all the way down to none. Advocacy work is being done to bring the plight of these men to national attention. Although just 43 in total, they are part of a growing number of asylum seekers coming to the US. Over the last three years, asylum seekers from India, in particular, have spiked 2,318%, according to a USA Today report.
Late last year, two Sikh men were granted asylum in the US after a six-month detention period, after fleeing the country for being homosexual. They were also held at the detention center in El Paso.