WASHINGTON, JUNE 20,
Several people from South Asia, including many Indians, are among those detained by U.S. immigration authorities at a federal prison in Oregon for illegally entering the country.
The Donald Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration has resulted in sweeping enforcement measures such as separation of children from their families.
The Indian Embassy in the U.S. is trying to ascertain the reports, and to contact the detained people before planning a course of action, an official told The Hindu.
123 prisoners in total
Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) said in a statement: “Over the last month, 123 immigrants seeking asylum have been detained and transferred to Oregon’s Sheridan federal prison in Yamhill County. The majority of the 123 people in the Sheridan prison are South Asian, who speak primarily Hindi and Punjabi, and a few [are] identified as Chinese.” Some of the detainees are from Nepal, according to reports.
Bahadur Singh, chairman, Ghadar Memorial Foundation, Oregon said that he was trying to contact the detainees and provide help. Mr. Singh, who runs a shop in Sheridan city, said that the detainees were picked up from communities in California, Texas and Oregon. “There were brought here from several places,” he said by phone. Valarie Kaur, a Sikh community activist, posted on Twitter that 52 of these detainees were from India; 13 from Nepal; and two from Bangladesh.
According to a report in The Oregonian, “four members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, emerged angry and emotional [on] Saturday after touring the detention centre”.
“The migrants told the politicians [that] they are locked up 22 to 23 hours a day, three to a cell. It’s been difficult to impossible to talk to a lawyer. Those with families say they have no idea where their wives or children are, and they fear they’ll be deported and separated from them forever,” it said.
The report said several detainees identified themselves as Sikhs or Christians fleeing religious persecution.
Indians were the largest group of detainees being held in Sheridan, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, who visited them, said in an article. “Through our Punjabi translator, we learned that these men were planning to request asylum because they faced severe religious persecution in India.
“Most are Sikh or Christian. Instead, they were incarcerated in a federal prison. They said they came to the United States for religious freedom, but they felt as if they were ‘going crazy’ because they are being confined in small cells for up to 22 hours a day (They pointed out that the other non-immigrant prisoners get far more time out of cells),” she wrote.
“I am extremely concerned about their children, especially young children, and their families… Today the Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are turning a blind eye to our nation’s history and causing long-term damage to innocent children. It’s abhorrent and it must stop now,” the lawmaker wrote.
“2,000 kids have been separated from their families, some for 2 months. This is the definition of cruel and unusual,” said Susheela Jayapal, Commissioner-Elect for Multnomah County, Oregon.
“This policy of family separation needs to end now; and in the meantime, all detainees deserve legal representation and fair treatment, starting with transparency about their children’s whereabouts and humane detention conditions,” she said. She is the elder sister of U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from Washington State.
APANO said it was trying to put together a rapid legal response, led by Innovation Law Lab and the Oregon chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. APANO is connecting with local South Asian communities and ‘One Oregon Coalition’ to raise further awareness and support for the detainees.