Here’s what we know.
Somewhere in El Paso, Texas, 37 young men from Punjab went to bed hungry tonight.
Let me explain.
On Saturday, April 12, the El Paso Times reported that “a group of more than 40 Indian immigrants are refusing to eat while in U.S. custody in an effort to gain political asylum.” According to the story, the men — Sikhs from the Indian state of Punjab ranging from the ages of 22 to 27 — have been held in El Paso’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility since last summer.
You read correctly. Last summer.
The men have been detained by ICE, the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), some since June, others since July, when they entered the country.
I’ll do the math for you. That’s nine to 10 months spent living in a detention facility.
What’s their crime, you ask?
According to the El Paso Times, the men “were active in a Sikh minority political party in India and were targeted for violent attacks.” After the men were threatened with arrest by local police, they fled to America, fearing religious persecution.
Buta Singh, one of the 37 detainees on strike interviewed by the El Paso Times, stated that he and his fellow detainees have a credible fear of persecution if they return to their home country. “They will kill us if we go back, sir,” Singh said. “That’s why we came here — to protect our lives.”
According to ICE protocols, a detainee seeking political asylum must prove that they have a “credible fear” of persecution through a formal interview process. “An individual will be found to have a credible fear of torture if he or she establishes that there is a “significant possibility” that he or she could establish in a full hearing before an Immigration Judge that he or she would be subject to torture… if returned to his or her country.”
Credible fear. According to one of the attorneys of the men, some of the detainees have already successfully passed through the credible fear interviews necessary to obtain political asylum still.
And still. They remain. Day after day after day. Month after month after month.
“They’re determined to continue with their hunger strike until they are released,” stated a lawyer interviewed for the Times story. “There is zero evidence that any of the detainees are anyone but who they say they are.”
That’s what we know. We also know that that the men have been “advised of ICE hunger strike protocols, under which a physician may eventually recommend involuntary treatment when a detainee’s life or long-term health are deemed to be in danger.”
But here’s what we don’t know. Why are 37 men from Punjab, all in their early 20s, still detained in a detention facility? Why do they have to resort to starving themselves to get the attention of authorities and media? What is their crime? Why are they still being held there? What is going on?
According to ICE credible fear protocols, “After the applicant is taken into custody, he or she will be given an orientation to the credible fear process and given a list of pro bono (free or low cost) legal service providers. USCIS requires a wait of at least 48 hours after the applicant arrives at the detention site before conducting the credible fear interview, in order to give the applicant time to recover from the journey and/or contact a consultant. This period may be waived by the applicant. Decisions about credible fear cases are made as expeditiously as possible by USCIS.”
How is nine to 10 months in a detention facility expeditious?
There’s so little we know. A list of names, smuggled out of the El Paso Processing Center. Buta Singh. Jaspreet Singh. Sukhinder Singh. Jasvir Singh. It goes on. But there’s so much more that we don’t know and need to find out.
If you believe that Buta Singh and the 36 other detainees at the El Paso Processing Center deserve an expedited decision about their political asylum cases, sign 18MillionRising’s petition demanding the release and parole of these credible asylum seekers. Because 37 young men from Punjab went to bed hungry last night in El Paso. And the night before. And the night before. And the night before. And the night before.
Kishwer Vikaas is a co-founder of and editor at The Aerogram. Follow her on Twitter at @phillygrrl or email her at email@example.com.