22nd July 2018   •   article
Sikhs forced to cut their hair & Hindus given beef - say detainees held by Trump policy

by Barfi Culture Team | @barfi_culture.
Barfi Culture reported a few weeks ago that the Trump administration had locked up and indefinitely detained over a 100 asylum seekers, many from India, in the state of Oregon.

New reports from the detainees now say their religious rights are being violated, as Sikh men are being forced to cut their hair and Hindu detainees were being forced to eat beef.

The detainees say their harsh conditions have left them feeling depressed and suicidal, according to court documents filed this week. They told guards some practices went against their beliefs. But, "we were ridiculed on keeping our religion in mind," one detainee wrote.

Who are they and why are they being detained?

In June just over 120 people were transferred to Sheridan County, Oregon, by the Trump administration. At least 70 were reported to be South Asians, mostly from India. Many could only communicate in Punjabi or Hindi.

These detentions followed an order by the US Justice Department in May that anyone entering the country illegally would be prosecuted and detained as a lawbreaker, and the family would be separated.

But people seeking refuge from persecution have no choice: they have to enter a country without a permit to seek asylum. Under UN treaties, signed by countries including the US, it is not a crime to enter a country to seek asylum. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has continued detentions and family separations.

What are the detainees saying?

"Through our Punjabi translator, we learned that these men were planning to request asylum because they faced severe religious persecution in India. Most are Sikh or Christian. Instead they were incarcerated in a federal prison," wrote one US Congresswoman when she visited the detainees last month.

Now the detainees have had a chance themselves to write about their conditions, in court documents filed this week.

"Here we have come to save our lives but I think we will die here in jail," one detainee wrote.

"In the night, it gets so cold in the cell and when l was in boxers and T-shirt, I was terribly cold,” another said.

"I have suicidal thoughts but then I remember my family. My family is all that keeps me going," wrote one,
according to AP news.

William Teesdale, from the public defender's office in Oregon, said detainees were being strip-searched in front of others, Hindus were given beef and pork to eat, and Sikhs were being forced to cut their hair. He also said detainees were living in very cold conditions.

Several medical problems including a heart problem, gunshot wound and broken leg had been left untreated. The court documents also said detainees were triple-bunked and confined for long hours in cells with open toilets.

Leland Baxter-Neal, an attorney with the ACLU in Oregon, called the conditions inhumane and unconstitutional.

Who is helping them?

Civil rights organisations such as the ACLU are challenging the Trump administration's policy on detention and family separation in courts.

Advocacy groups are also mobilising

Victoria Bejarano Muirhead of Innovation Law Lab told Oregon Live her group had engaged over 80 volunteers to provide legal services to the detainees.

Nationally, Senator Kamala Harris and Rep. Pramila Jayapal have introduced a bill to increase oversight of ICE facilities.

Democrat lawmakers in Oregon have also been speaking out and mobiling people in support of these asylum seekers.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official refused to comment, citing pending lawsuits.
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