Chasing the American dream, Bunty Singh (not his real name) illegally entered the US after crisscrossing several countries but landed in an immigration detention centre in New Mexico where he has been languishing for the last 16 months.
Chasing the American dream, Bunty Singh (not his real name) illegally entered the US after crisscrossing several countries but landed in an immigration detention centre in New Mexico where he has been languishing for the last 16 months. Hailing from a middle-class family of Jalandhar, Singh, whose father is in Punjab Police and mother a housewife, left his hometown more than two years ago.
Lured by a local travel agent with the promise of being taken inside the US, it took him several months, crisscrossing several countries, before he tried to sneak into the US through the Mexico border near El Paso in Texas. Unlike several other fellows Indians who managed to enter the US undetected, Singh was nabbed soon thereafter. Since then, he has been under detention.
Having spent last 16 months at the federal detention centre in Otero, New Mexico, Singh is now in the process of being deported back home. The travel agent who lured him is absconding. His family members say that so far, they have spent about Rs 47 lakh, most of them going to the agent and a portion of it for hiring the local attorney to fight his case. Nothing has been of any help so far as the argument by Singh that he wants “political asylum” in the US “because minority Sikhs are being persecuted by majority Hindus” has failed to convince the American judges.
Notably, “religious persecution” is the most common argument by Indians illegally crossing into the US and seeking political asylum here. Singh is not alone as there are about 100 Indians, mostly from Punjab, who are held at two immigration detention centres in the Southern American State of New Mexico and Oregon after crossing the US border illegally.
According to officials, around 40-45 Indians are at a federal detention centre in the Southern American State of New Mexico while 52 Indians, mostly Sikhs and Christians, are held in Oregon. Satnam Singh Chahal, of the North American Punjabi Association (NAPA), believes that thousands of Indians, with the overwhelming majority of them being from Punjab, are languishing in jails in the US.
Chahal alleged that there is a nexus of human traffickers, officials and politicians in Punjab, who encourage young Punjabis to leave their homes to illegally enter the US and charge Rs 35-50 lakhs from each individual. “Human trafficking is a criminal act which affects the global community and consequently Punjabis are too victims of this episode. The Punjabis’ enthusiasm to migrate to affluent countries in search of greener pastures has given the traffickers to exploit them,” he said.
“Using different modus operandi, people of different backgrounds involved in human trafficking and often put the lives of their clients in considerable danger. Failure to reach their promised destination leads to deportation, exploitation, indebtedness, imprisonment and even death,” he rued. He urged the Punjab government to strictly enforce human trafficking laws that have been passed by the State Assembly in recent years.
According to immigration attorney Akansha Kalra the largest number of Indians who enter the US illegally are from Punjab and Gujarat. Sharing her experience at an event organised by the Hindu American Foundation early this week, Kalra said young Indians in the 20s are crossing the border.
With the Trump administration’s strict immigration policy, she said, “hopefully they would get deterred”. “But so far they keep on coming,” she added during fourth annual HAF Policy Conference at the US Capitol. “They (Punjabi boys) use the same script that was used in the 80s,” she said, narrating the experience of her visits to one of these detention centres in Pennsylvania, which has several of illegal Indians being detained.
Most of these Indians get nabbed at the Mexico border, get processed in Texas and then shipped out to the Pennsylvania detention centre, which is one of the largest of such detention facilities in the US. “I say to them why do you want me to file for your asylum? You do not have an asylum case. The scripts that the smuggler gave you of (religious prosecution) is not going to work anymore,” Kalra said.