A ‘Processing Centre’ of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) located in El Paso, Texas, has confirmed that 37 Indian persons of Indian origin, said to be from Punjab, are on hunger strike, corroborating an earlier report in The Hindu that a significant proportion of the 100-plus detainees held on immigration charges were protesting their treatment.

The spokesperson for the centre, Leticia Zamarripa, told The Hindu that although she was able to confirm that the men were on hunger strike, she was not able to provide any further details on their detention, including on how long they had been protesting in this manner, what measures ICE had taken in this regard, how long they had been detained there, how many of them were there, whether they had been formally charged and what legal remedies they could hope for.

However Ms. Zamarripa did say via email, “ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference. While we continue to work with Congress to enact commonsense immigration reform, ICE remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on its priorities, including convicted criminals and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the US”

Speaking to The Hindu earlier, Satnam Singh Chahal of the North American Punjabi Association (NAPA) expressed concern at the “miserable plight” of these “young men who are languishing in US jails charged with illegal entry without valid entry visas.”

Mr. Chahal said that the men began their journey from India in July 2013 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 US detention facility, they either attempted a border crossing into the US or were transported across.

NAPA said that it was highlighting 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 backgrounds involved in human trafficking and often put the lives of their clients in considerable danger.”

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