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.