Over hundred Punjabi men were said to be held in detention facilities for undocumented immigrants in El Paso, Texas, this week, with 42 of them embarking on the fourth day of a hunger strike to protest against authorities’ alleged denial of access to outside resources to the inmates.
Satnam Singh Chahal of the North American Punjabi Association (NAPA) expressed concern at the “miserable plight” of these “young men who are languishing in U.S. jails charged with illegal entry without valid entry visas”.
Howvever, when contacted by The Hindu the press officer at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement El Paso Processing Centre, Leticia Zamarripa, said, "I checked and there are no hunger strikers reported at the... Centre."
She said that she did not have any additional details available on the case but would be looking into it.
Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Chahal said that the men began their journey from India in July 2013 from India and reached Mexico via a circuitous global route involving Moscow, Havana, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
When they reached an unknown city of Mexico, he said, the entire group was held in a single room and not permitted to go outside the room.
At some point prior to November 11 2013, when they found themselves in the U.S. detention facility, they either attempted a border crossing into the U.S. or were transported across.
While in the facility the Punjabi youths were not permitted to use telephones or other means of communication to update friends and family on their situation, Mr. Chahal said.
NAPA extends legal aid
Following this NAPA sought to extend “legal assistance and moral support” to the detainees, including by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the Department of Homeland Security.
In an April 10, 2014 email to the ICE that was shared with The Hindu NAPA said, “This is our third email request to you for which we are looking forward to have your response. Several undocumented persons of Indian Origin are detained in El Paso Processing Centre 8915 Montana Ave El Paso TX 79925. We are… concerned about their future. We got information that some of the detainees of Indian origin are on hunger strike [for] three days for… unknown reasons… Please provide us [with] information about this and also let us know when our representatives can visit this facility to meet these detainees.”
The organisation also flagged the problem of “human trafficking” as a criminal act that had victimised Punjabis, adding, “Punjabis enthusiasm to migrate to affluent countries in search of greener pastures has given the traffickers to exploit them. Using different modus operandi, people of different back grounds involved in human trafficking and often put the lives of their clients in considerable danger.”
This article has been corrected for factual accuracy. The suicide mentioned was committed months earlier at a different location, not the El Paso centre.