U.S. released majority of Punjabi asylum-seekers

The men, who were initially thought to exceed 100 in number, had improper or no documentation while entering the country at the Mexico-Texas border during November 2013-May 2014

Updated - November 16, 2021 07:23 pm IST

Published - August 23, 2014 07:36 pm IST - Washington:

At least 20 of 37 would-be immigrants from Punjab, languishing for months in a Texas detention facility, have been released into the care of friends or family here despite being authorised for “expedited removal,” a move that raises concerns about increased human trafficking in the face of an immigration policy that is perceived as lenient.

In most cases the detainees who ultimately found freedom in the U.S. after a hazardous journey across the world succeeded in getting a positive “credible fear referral,” which came after they demonstrated genuine concerns regarding persecution in their place of origin, the statistics indicate.

Answering a Freedom of Information Act request filed by  The Hindu  earlier this year the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned statistical tables indicating that the remaining 17 men who wound up in an “processing centre” in El Paso were also going through a similar process of asylum applications and it is possible that some or all of them would also be released upon furnishing a bond.

The men, who were initially thought to exceed 100 in number, had improper or no documentation while entering the country at the Mexico-Texas border during November 2013-May 2014.

At the time Satnam Singh Chahal of the North American Punjabi Association, a group providing legal assistance to the detainees, said that their case highlighted the problem of shady operators who “victimised” Punjabis with the lure of migrating to the U.S.

In April the spokesperson for the El Paso centre, Leticia Zamarripa said to The Hinduthat 37 persons of Indian origin were on hunger strike, however adding, “ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference… [and] remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on… convicted criminals and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the U.S.”

According to accounts provided to this newspaper in May by two of the detainees they transported from India to Mexico via a circuitous global route involving Moscow, Havana, Ecuador, El Salvador, Surinam and Guatemala – only to end up in the dead of night at the foot of a bridge crossing onto U.S. soil, with the instruction to swim across the icy waters.

At the time both men, in their twenties, said that they had family members in the U.S. who were trying to help him build the case for asylum, but they had run into roadblocks such as the asylum officer in charge, in Houston, Texas, refusing to return their calls.

However Immigration Attorney Sheela Murthy said to The Hindu that under U.S. law some of them may be classified him as a case of ‘Entry Without Inspection,’ because they did not have proper papers and could thus be subject to mandatory detention and possible deportation.

The latest developments in their case suggest that the U.S. government may have taken a softer view towards these undocumented immigrants from India, as most of them were “bonded out” at some point during the last six months.

In this regard Ms. Murthy explained, “The law allows for a person who claims to be seeking asylum from persecution in [their] home country to… stay with relatives in the U.S… Those seeking asylum should not be detained in jail since the U.S. has overcrowded detention facilities already, so such folks are being allowed to go and live with family or friends… [and] The U.S. tax payer is not picking up the burden [for their expenses].”

Yet Ms. Murthy cautioned, “They are not supposed to scam the system when they know that they are not being persecuted with fear of death or serious bodily injury.”

However there is a possibility that the success of the Punjabi immigrants in their bid to remain in the U.S. may fuel future border crossing attempts on a larger scale, in all likelihood driven by a network of shady immigration operators.

In this regard Mr. Chahal said that some detainees had supplied NAPA with information regarding those he described as the “human smuggling kingpins,” to whom each detainee apparently paid $60,000.

Providing specific details to the Punjab government on three individuals, including addresses in Ludhiana and Patiala and mobile phone numbers in Russia, Mr. Chahal advocated on behalf of those who were at risk of being trafficked in the future from the state by urging Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to “tighten the noose around those who lure youths through advertisements.”

To date, it appears there has been no response from the Punjab government’s NRI Commission, the agency to which Mr. Chahal supplied the information, on the matter.

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