Lawmakers commend advocacy group for taking up cause of South Asians seeking asylum

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Several Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill lauded a South Asian-American advocacy group for highlighting issues faced by refugee claimants from India and other nations from the Subcontinent at a hearing where numerous groups joined to focus on detention centers at the U.S. – Mexico border and elsewhere around the country.

South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT, members protesting before the White House. Photo: SAALT Facebook profile photo)

On April 2, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and other advocacy groups  hosted a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill to draw attention to what they see as a rise in South Asians seeking asylum in the U.S.

Other groups who joined SAALT to hold the hearing included The Sikh Coalition, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), UndocuBlack Network, Detention Watch Network, United We Dream, and Freedom for Immigrants.

Lakshmi Sridaran, interim co-executive director of SAALT opened the briefing saying, “We are all here today to say loud and clear that immigration is a Black issue, immigration is a LatinX issue, immigration is a South Asian issue, immigration is an LGBTQ issue. It is the practice of solidarity and local organizing that we hope to uplift today for Capitol Hill to see, to understand immigrant detention, and to address the litany of violations and abuses faced by detained individuals.”

A panel consisting of Ruby Kaur, an attorney for two of the #ElPaso9 (Sikhs detained by U.S. authorities); Deep Singh, Executive Director of Jakara Movement; Jennifer Apodaca, of the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee in El Paso; Patrice Lawrence, national policy director of UndocuBlack Network; Carlos Hidalgo, immigration rights activist and member of Freedom for Immigrants leadership council; and Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director of United We Dream alleged that a series of abuses and civil rights violations had been documented in detention facilities from Adelanto, CA to El Paso, TX., a press release from SAALT, said.

The panel cited cases of alleged medical neglect, inadequate language access, denial of religious accommodations, retaliation for hunger strikes, and the practice of solitary confinement. Advocates urged lawmakers on Capitol Hill and their staff to take immediate action through specific legislation, oversight, and appropriations recommendations.

Among the lawmakers present were Democratic Reps. Judy Chu of California; Karen Bass, also of California; Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon; Grace Meng of New York; Mark Takano of California; and Veronica Escobar of Texas.

Statements made by these members of Congress, blasted the Trump administration for the conditions in detention centers that they said they witnessed during their visits.

Rep. Chu, while commending SAALT for highlighting diverse communities impacted by the “xenophobic policies” contended that, “Over the past few years, we have seen a spike in the number of individuals seeking asylum from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal who have suffered from neglect and abuse at the hands of our own federal government.” Calling it “unacceptable” Chu said she will continue to work with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and colleagues “to push for greater transparency, accountability, and oversight of these facilities.”

Rep. Meng commended SAALT for taking the leadership “in standing up for the South Asian community.” Meng’s District 6 in New York, has a significant number of South Asian immigrants.

“The U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants but President Trump’s policies and rhetoric toward those who came to our country in search of a better life has been cruel and un-American.”

The South Asian advocacy group has been closely following the fate of Sikh men detained while trying to seek asylum, and being moved to Oregon, where they went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions. Lawyers in Oregon engaged in a lawsuit on the issue, and a Sikh gurdwara in Salem, Oregon, took in those who were freed on bond from detention, the Associated Press reported Oct. 22, 2018.

According to the SAALT press release, the hearing was conducted in collaboration with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), Gil Cisneros (CA-39), Chu (CA-27), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Meng (NY-6) | Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Mark Pocan (WI-2), and Takano (CA-41).

The ‘Honorary Co-hosts’ of the hearing were Senators Kamala Harris of California, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

SAALT provided a link for a recorded stream of the Capitol Hill briefing. To listen, click here.

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