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Rediff.com  » News » US prison seeks Sikh leader's help to end Indians' hunger strike

US prison seeks Sikh leader's help to end Indians' hunger strike

April 16, 2014 12:56 IST

Hoping to end the deadlock with Indian detainees at the El Paso Processing Centre in Texas, America, who have been on a hunger strike since last Thursday, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities are now seeking the help of a Sikh faith leader.

Speaking about the incident to Rediff.com, Leticia Zamarripa, spokeswoman, ICE, at the centre said that it all began last Thursday when around 42 Indians refused to eat their meal. “Now, as of Tuesday, 38 of them are on a hunger strike,” she said. The strike came after detainees protested that they were not being released on parole or being given bonds and that the immigration judge was not taking their issue into consideration.

“ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference,” said Zamarripa.  “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 United States.”

The ICE officer said the senior El Paso management had spoke to the protesting detainees and even the chaplain was in talks with them. She added that medical personnel had told the detainees of potential health consequences of going without food for a long period of time.

“Hunger strikes at the processing center in El Paso are not common,” she said when asked if this was the first time the Indian detainees had protested.

Speaking to Rediff.com, several detainees said it was better for them to die in jail rather than go back home (India), as it was not safe. Buta Singh, 25, one of the detainees, came to the US through Central America after paying an agent back home Rs 25 lakh and was arrested 10 months ago by law enforcement agents while crossing the US border.

Singh said he feared returning home as the police could kill him. “Now if I go home they will kill me and here I am dying in the jail. I do not know what should I do.”

Another undocumented inmate, Hardeep Singh, 31, who was similarly arrested, added, “I do not have a criminal record. I left India because I feared that the local police are hostile towards us. I have told the immigration officer to check my background at home. I came here to seek asylum but it looks like I will die in jail.”

Another detainee, Sarabjeet Singh of Jalandhar, echoed the similar concerns. “We cannot sleep at night. My father was killed in 2012 by the police following which I escaped and came to the US. If this country does not accept us, then it is better to die. If I go back, they will kill me.”

According to Satnam Singh Chahal, the executive director at North American Punjabi Association (NAPA), a non-profit in California, who was planning to visit the centre to meet the inmates, the situation was a tragedy. “They pay about $60,000 to come to the US and do not know of the hardship. Now, the worst part is that they are here in prison on a hunger strike.”

He added that the government of Punjab should take strict action against travel and immigration agents who lure Punjabi youths with dreams of settling in the US.

Ritu Jha in California