Earlier last week, I wrote about the El Paso 37, a group of between 35 and 40 (or as many as 100, according to one report) Punjabi men who have been detained in an El Paso Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility for nearly a year awaiting an entry decision. Held under prison-like conditions, the Punjabi men — most between 20 – 30 years of age — are all escaping threats of violent political retribution for being members of a Sikh minority party in Punjab, and are seeking political asylum in the United States.
The process for seeking asylum in the United States involves an asylum seeker demonstrating “credible fear” of physical violence to ICE if returned to the country of origin; if credible fear can be demonstrated, a second interview to establish a parole decision — parole is granted if the applicant is neither a threat to public safety nor a flight risk — is to take place no less than 7 days after the “credible fear” interview.
It is at this step that the El Paso 37 have been stuck for nearly ten months in the El Paso detention facility. Although most have demonstrated credible fear, and have further provided documentation that they are not a flight risk, these asylum seekers are being held — seemingly indefinitely — awaiting their parole decisions. They have not been charged with a crime, and yet have had virtually all freedom removed from them. Instead, these forty arguably non-violent asylum seekers — who each should have received a parole decision last year — have instead been senselessly detained for far longer than is reasonable under the watch of armed guards, at a total cost of nearly $1.9 million dollars to the American taxpayer.
The case of the El Paso 37 is a clear example of the need to engage in comprehensive immigration reform of our current system: one characterized by inefficient or arbitrary red tape while it simultaneously mandates that prospective immigrants live in administrative limbo — unable to work, to marry, to travel — for months or years at a time while awaiting ICE decisions. It is a commonplace story that applicants awaiting visa decisions are separated for years from their family, unable to even return to their country of origin for such personal events like a sick parent or a dying sibling lest they nullify their application; alternatively, affianced couples may be forced to live in separate countries for years while awaiting marriage-based green cards. For the El Paso 37, as for every hopeful immigrant into the United States, dealing with this country’s broken immigration system too often results in a life interrupted.
Two weeks ago, the El Paso 37 staged a hunger strike to draw mainstream media attention to their plight and this has helped propel advocacy groups to action on their behalf. Asian American activist group 18 Million Rising joined forces 11 other advocacy groups to create a petition last week for the El Paso 37 (visit the petition site for the full list).
As of the publication of this post, online attention and advocacy has already had a demonstrable impact. Within the last two weeks of blogging and Twitter activism, one detainee has already received his parole decision and is now living with his family in D.C.; two others have also been granted a “change of venue”, which is likely to also lead to a parole decision (the El Paso Processing Center is notorious for standing in the way of parole decisions from asylum seekers, and applicants who receive venue changes have high rates of successfully receiving parole).
But, as of the publication of this post, more than thirty of the El Paso 37 still remain locked in the El Paso ICE detention facility under indefinite imprisonment. We need your help to achieve due process and an efficient parole decision for these asylum seekers.
The coalition of advocacy groups who first created the El Paso 37 petition has launched a 3 day phone-in campaign to urge ICE to act on behalf of the El Paso 37. From 18 Million Rising’s press statement:
Together with community groups, 18MR continues to fight for the rights of these Sikh detainees to access due process. Starting today, 18MR will partner with United We Dream to kickoff a 3-day protest, during which community members, activists, and organizers from across the country will unundate ICE with phone calls expressing concern about and demanding the release of the #ElPaso37. 18MR is also partnering with the Jakara Movement to provide social media coverage for a caravan of young South Asian students who will drive from Northern California to El Paso, culminating in a protest outside the El Paso Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center on Saturday April 26, at 12:00 PM Central Time.
Please get involved in helping the fight to free the El Paso 37! Here’s how you can help:
- Sign the petition to help free the #ElPaso37.
- Participate in the phone-in campaign by calling 1-888-351-4024 (ICE Enforcement & Removal) or 202-732-3000 (ICE’s DC HQ) in support of the El Paso 37. Here’s a website with more information (and where you can let 18MR that you made a call!), and your script for what to say:
“I’m calling about the 37 Punjabi asylum seekers who have been on a hunger strike since April 8 at the El Paso Processing Center. These young men have established credible fear of the Indiant government, yet have been in detention and unable to pursue their asylum cases in court, some for up to 10 months. It is a matter of urgency — and a matter of justice — that these men get the opportunity to win asylum in the United States.”
- Share this campaign with your friends and family through Facebook and Twitter, and make sure to hash-tag all your Tweets with #ElPaso37.
- Follow the 18MR/United We Dream live-stream of Saturday’s ICE protest at 18MillionRising.org
Download the full 18MillionRising press statement here (.pdf).