Washington, DC – In the wake of a hunger strike involving nine Sikh detainees in El Paso, Texas, the Sikh Coalition recently joined South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and other civil rights partners at a Congressional Briefing to draw immediate attention to the rise in South Asians seeking asylum in the US.
The event titled “Congressional Briefing on ICE Detention Practices,” attended by a number of Members of Congress, was opened by Lakshmi Sridaran, interim co-executive director of SAALT. Before welcoming the lawmakers, she said, “We hope to uplift today for Capitol Hill to see, to understand immigrant detention, and to address the litany of violations and abuses faced by detained individuals.”
Congresswoman Judy Chu from California commended SAALT for putting together the briefing, saying, “Over the past few years, we have seen a spike in the number of individuals seeking asylum from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal who have suffered from neglect and abuse at the hands of our own federal government. This is unacceptable. As Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I will continue to work with my colleagues to push for greater transparency, accountability, and oversight of these facilities.”
Another lawmaker from California, Mark Takano, shared his “extreme concern about how immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are being treated at the hands of our government,” adding, “Congress must continue to exert its oversight powers to hold the Trump Administration accountable and bring humanity back to our immigration system.”
New Yorker Congresswoman Grace Meng lambasted President Donald Trump saying, “The US has always been a nation of immigrants but President Trump’s policies and rhetoric toward those who came to our country in search of a better life has been cruel and un-American. He has made the targeting of immigrants a central part of his administration while persistently lobbing bigoted, verbal attacks at immigrant communities. From separating families to feeding only pork sandwiches to a Muslim detainee, the administration’s actions have been abhorrent.”
“As a Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, I will continue to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for the immigration policies that they have implemented. My priority is to end these inhumane immigration enforcement practices, and ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect,” Meng promised while addressing the audience.
Sridaran, the SAALT chief, introduced a select panel of expert community leaders, attorneys and advocates who highlighted a series of abuses and civil rights violations documented in detention facilities all over the US, including the most recent Sikh hunger strikers in El Paso, Texas.
Among others, the panel consisted of: Jennifer Apodaca, Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee, El Paso; Patrice Lawrence, National Policy Director, UndocuBlack Network; Attorney Ruby Kaur, active in El paso; Carlos Hidalgo, Member of Freedom for Immigrants Leadership Council; Sanaa Abrar, Advocacy Director of United We Dream; and Deep Singh, Executive Director of Jakara Movement.
In its deliberations, the panel listed cases of alleged inadequacies in medical facilities, language access, religious freedom of practice in addition to alleged retaliation for hunger strikes, and the practice of solitary confinement. The panel urged lawmakers to take note and address the alleged lack of facilities.
Criticizing separation of immigrant families as a violation of human rights, California Representative Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus said, “This outrageous policy along with the Trump Administration’s attempt to deport individuals living in the United States, many of whom now know the US as their home, must be addressed immediately.”
Lawmakers Suzanne Bonamici and Veronica Escobar echoed the voices of criticism on the Trump administration’s treatment of people seeking safety at the US borders and vowed to work to ensure an end to such policies.
Cindy Nesbit, Senior Staff Attorney related to the Sikh Coalition, who also attended the briefing, summed up the perspectives shared at the hearing: “Access to due process, religious accommodations, medical care, and language assistance is not an immigration issue; it’s a basic human rights issue. Our government has a responsibility to make sure that every person being detained is treated fairly under the law, and we have an organizational responsibility to hold our government accountable.”