When most of us imagine what the people inside immigration detention centers in the United States look like, we usually do not think of Sikhs from Punjab. Our Sikh American community — and more broadly South Asian American community — has been reluctant to deeply engage with the harsh realities of immigration policy and detention here in the United States. Too often we have seen this as someone else’s issue or passed quick judgment on those migrants from various parts of the world who overstayed their tourist visas or crossed the border under the radar — in search of work, to feed their families, in hopes of a better life. Papers or not, this hope for freedom is what brings all migrants to the United States.
Right now at least 37 Punjabi migrants, who fled India in search of this illusive freedom, are detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in El Paso, Texas. News of these men and others at the El Paso facility protesting their indefinite detentions (they have been detained for over nine months now) came to surface in December. Last week, we learned that 37 Singhs — now known as the El Paso 37 — began a hunger strike.
37 young Sikh men — many who are seeking political asylum in the US — have been detained for almost a year in Texas, yet we have heard almost nothing about it in our organizations or gurdwaras. There has been no major news coverage of these men’s plight. Their harsh journey to El Paso reportedly took them through Moscow, Havana, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Instead of finding respite, comfort, and safety in the US, they have found prison walls.
Our community has had no shortage of reasons to engage with immigrant rights issues before now, but the El Paso 37 case makes it clearer than ever that these issues are South Asian issues, Punjabi issues, Sikh issues.
This week, Sikh activists from the Jakara Movement in California have been working day and night to bring more attention to the unjust detention of the El Paso 37. Tomorrow (Friday, 4/25), 12 young Sikhs will be embarking on a caravan from Fresno to El Paso, making seven stops along the way at gurdwaras and community centers to raise awareness about the case and demand the men’s freedom. Jakara has partnered with the Asian American activist group 18 Million Rising, United We Dream, and a host of local organizations in this caravan, which will be making stops and doing local events, rallies, and press conferences in Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles (Pacoima and Artesia), Phoenix, and El Paso.
You can get involved and support the caravan and campaign in a number of ways. Visit elpaso37.org to get all information on the local events, and spread the word to your friends and family in those areas. Make a donation to support the caravan’s expenses. Sign the petition to release the El Paso 37. Follow #elpaso37 on Twitter, and help amplify the message of the caravan by spreading the word in your communities and families, on social media and beyond.