The Donald Trump administration’s controversial new border policy has led to at least 70 south Asian asylum-seekers being detained at a federal prison in the state of Oregon in the US’s Pacific northwest.
Out of the 123 immigrants that were transfered to the facility over the past month, 52 are reportedly Indian, mainly Sikhs and Christians who say they are fleeing religious persecution, according to a report in The Oregonian newspaper. The group also includes 13 immigrants from Nepal and two from Bangladesh. The rest come from Mexico, Brazil, and China, among other countries.
These immigrants have reportedly faced brutal conditions in the correctional facility, separated from their wives and children and forced to stay in their cells for hours on end. Many only speak Hindi or Punjabi, and have not received help from translators or any legal aid, according to the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), a social justice organisation.
“These detainees are isolated, have limited access to interpretation, and are at-risk of abuse in their current prison housing arrangement,” the APANO said in a post on its website. The organisation has been trying to coordinate help and raise funds for support, besides recruiting volunteers to help with translation. On June 18, several hundred local residents reportedly gathered near the prison to protest the detention, holding signs that said “Make America compassionate again” and “Keep families together.”
The asylum-seekers have been detained under the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which was introduced in May. With this policy, all immigrants illegally crossing the border into the US can be criminally prosecuted in federal court. Any minors travelling with them are taken into government custody.
In the wake of the new rules, horrifying stories of young children being separated from their families have emerged, prompting heavy criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, notably former first lady Laura Bush, and even Melania Trump herself.
The policy is a sign of the intensifying crackdown on immigration in the US, which has picked up pace since Donald Trump was elected.
Indians are the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population in the country, with their number hitting half a million in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. While some overstayed their student or business visas, others have made the treacherous trip across central America to cross the border into the US.