As many as 52 men from India are among the asylum seekers being held in US federal prisons in Trump administration’s continuing zero-tolerance crackdown on illegal immigration that has led to the separation of families and, most controversially, removal of children from their parents.
The Indians, who were mostly Punjabi and Hindi speakers, are being held in a federal detention center in Oregon, Washington state, where they were transferred as part of a larger group of 123 people held allegedly for crossing into the US illegally along the border with Mexico weeks ago.
According to a local news daily The Oregonian, some of the Indians identified themselves as Sikhs and Christians who claimed they were fleeing persecution by Hindu majority in India. It could not be immediately confirmed if they had been separated from their families.
Hindustan Times is also awaiting response from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), one of the agencies that enforces immigration laws, if there were more Indians being held elsewhere. This group in Oregon was discovered during a tour of the facility by a delegation of US lawmakers.
The others in this group of 123 — all men, ICE has said — were from China, Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan and Ukraine.
They told the lawmakers that they are locked up 22 to 23 hours a day, three to a cell, according to The Oregonian report. Those with families have said they have no information about their wives and children and their recent meeting with some lawyers were their first contacts with the outside world in days.
Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups have been in touch with the detainees while some other bodies have sought volunteers from the Indian American community for those from India, most of whom can only speak and understand Punjabi or Hindi.
Asylum seekers are facing increased scrutiny under the Trump administration and those showing up illegally are being subjected to a zero-tolerance policy that has led to an outcry because of the splitting of families.
The administration said 10,000 of the 12,000 children in US detention facilities were those who were sent by their parents alone to be smuggled illegally into the United States and the remaining 2,000 were separated from the their parents when their families crossed over illegally.
“We must always arrest people coming into our country illegally,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday defending his administration against growing outrage among conservatives and liberal alike. The policy also invited criticism from all four living former first ladies, in rare public statements.
But President Trump has shown no sign of ending the practice and has continued to falsely blame Democrats for it. “Democrats are the problem,” he wrote in a tweet. “They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country (sic).”
Democrats have pushed back and accused the president of leveraging the plight of the children to seek support for his immigration plan of enhanced border security — including funding for a wall along the border with Mexico — and end to family-based migration and diversity visa.