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Keeping Sikh asylum detainees with criminals violates Constitution, says Oregon federal defender

Detention centre simply not equipped to handle immigration detainees along with pre-trial federal population, tells warden of the centre in a communication

world Updated: Jul 27, 2018 11:42 IST
Hitender Rao
Hitender Rao
Hindustan Times, San Francisco
Sikh asylum,Oregon Federal Defender,Indian Sikh asylum
(HT file)

The confinement of Indian Sikh asylum detainees along with the federally-charged and convicted prisoners at the Sheridan federal detention centre in Oregon, declared rather unusual by lawyers representing the detainees, has evoked a sharp response from the office of the Oregon Federal Public Defender (FPD). The FPD provides legal defence to those who are charged with a federal offence and cannot afford a lawyer. Its office has said that the continued confinement of immigration detainees along with pre-trial federal population will violate the Constitution for both.

A hundred and twenty one (121) asylum seekers, including 52 Indians, mostly Sikhs, detained at the Sheridan federal detention centre have narrated harrowing accounts of being celled together with federally-charged and convicted defendants. These Indian Sikh detainees who are seeking asylum in the United States (US) on the grounds of political persecution were detained by officers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after they illegally crossed over to the US from Mexico.

In a communication to the warden, Josias Salazar, of the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Sheridan, FPD’s Lisa Hay said Sheridan federal detention centre was simply not equipped to handle immigration detainees along with the pre-trial federal population currently housed there.

FPD strengthens the argument of lawyers

The FPD communication has strengthened the argument of Pro bono (voluntarily and without payment) lawyers providing legal assistance to Sikh detainees who raised concerns over the “unusual practice” of the Trump administration to house asylum detainees in federal detention facilities.

An Indian-origin lawyer from Oregon, Jaskarn Singh Sandhu, has questioned the move to keep asylum seekers with other criminals. “They are asylum seekers not criminals. The problem is that a federal detention facility like Sheridan follows the same protocol for asylum seekers as they do for criminals,’’ Sandhu said.

A Portland lawyer representing Indian detainees had said that some of the Sikh boys he met during his legal visits told him that when they were detained at the ICE detention centre at Calexico in California, there was a move to shift them to another ICE detention centre at Tacoma in Washington State. But strangely they were brought to Victorville Medium federal detention facility in California, he said. He suspected that detaining asylum seekers along with hardened criminals, and subjecting them to a tougher prison protocol was a deliberate exercise to scare away asylum seekers.

Law required detainees be kept separate from prisoners

The FPD communication copied to chief judge, US district court, Michael Mosman and US Marshal, Russel Burger, said the law requires that these populations be kept separate, but due to lack of space and the configuration of the pods in the facility, the primary mechanism for meeting this separation requirement is constant lock-down of both sides. Continued confinement to this degree will violate the constitution, for both populations, it added.

The FPD office added that if Sheridan is to be used for immigration detention, then consideration should be given to placing immigration detainees together in one full pod with no pre-trial detainees among them. This would end the need for lock-down in cells. Cultural and religious groups should also be invited to bring meals to share with the detainees, the communication read. In its written declaration before a court of law, Federal Bureau of Prisons official, Amberly Newman, admitted that some asylum detainees and pre-trial inmates were housed together at Sheridan.

First Published: Jul 26, 2018 21:35 IST

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