22 Sikhs Stage Hunger Strike to Protest Detention at Krome ICE Facility

Twenty-two Sikhs in Broward staged a hunger strike starting July 25 after not receiving reasonable bond hearings.
Twenty-two Sikhs in Broward staged a hunger strike starting July 25 after not receiving reasonable bond hearings.
George P. Choma/Shutterstock

Twenty-two Sikh men are on a hunger strike to protest their custody in South Florida, according to Shalini Agarwal, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Miami.

Agarwal said the men began the hunger strike July 25, when they were not given a reasonable bond hearing that was promised when they were transferred to Miami's Krome Detention Center from the Broward Transitional Center.

At the BTC facility, the Sikhs went on a hunger strike for four days after learning of immigration Judge Rex Ford’s tough track record on  refusing to grant bond to most asylum seekers. In 2012, New Times chronicled how two activists infiltrated the privately held BTC and exposed the bureaucratic nightmares experienced by many of its detainees. 

After being transferred to Krome, they were each given and passed a "credible fear" interview. This established they had a reasonable fear of persecution if they returned home. They were scheduled bond hearings, but the dates came and went, and nothing happened.

“It looked like they were leading them on,” Agarwal says. The ACLU sent a letter on behalf of the 22 men to Krome director Marc Moore on August 6. He had heard the men could be subjected to force-feeding and being dealt with under the Baker Act — a Florida law that’s used to involuntarily commit the mentally ill. 

This hasn’t happened, Agarwal said, although she wrote in the letter that some of the men have now refused to accept liquids.

Some men are getting released. Five are set to be released, according to Laura Kelley, a Doral-based immigration attorney who represents seven of the 22 Sikhs. The men were released on a $7,500 bond and an ankle-monitoring bracelet and will live with a sponsor — none of whom live in South Florida, according to Kelley — while their asylum applications are considered.

Most of them are still on a strike and waiting to be released, according to Kelley, who added that she believes the others have legal representation.

Kelley didn't want to identify any of the men because they are fleeing persecution in their homeland of Punjab, a state in the northwestern part of India. The men traveled up to eight months before reaching the Texas border near Hildago, where they crossed the Rio Grande into the United States and were detained by federal customs agents before being transferred to BTC. 

“People will take desperate measures to save their lives,” Kelley said.

Kelley, who said she has experience representing Sikhs, became aware of her clients in Krome through a past Sikh client who sought asylum in March 2014.

The Sikhs follow Sikhism, a religion that originated in the 15th Century in the Punjab region of South Asia, which encompasses parts of India and Pakistan. For years, they have faced persecution in Punjab, India. 

Back in April 2014, a group of Sikh men was detained at the Texas border after approaching a Border Patrol agent on an international bridge from Mexico. According to the Daily Beast, some of the men were deported while the rest had their parole requests denied. The remaining men were detained for almost a year before starting a hunger strike and were eventually granted asylum. 

Email story tips to David Minsky


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