Although the overwhelming number of immigrant detention centers are privately owned and operated, the El Paso Processing Center is run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nevertheless, it confines immigrants who are being held for civil—not criminal—matters. Many of those held there are asylum-seekers, and staying in detention only adds to the trauma.
Many of the asylum-seekers—who are mostly from Central America and India and fear violence because of their sexual preferences or religion—say they have established credible fear of persecution or torture with U.S. authorities. According to ICE, those asylum-seekers who have established credible fear are eligible for release from detention on a case-by-case basis. Parole requires a humanitarian need or a public benefit, and a reasonable expectation that the asylum-seeker doesn’t pose a security threat.
Colorlines has obtained a document smuggled out of the detention facility that lists 32 Indian men who have passed their credible fear interview but remain in detention nonetheless. Some entered in May 2013, were granted an interview and established credible fear the same month. Yet seven months later, these 32 men remain in detention, without any indication of when they will be paroled.
That’s why at 12 p.m. Mountain Time, up to 40 detainees began a demonstration in the common area where they’re served lunch. Ungo Ramírez, a 33-year-old asylum-seeker from El Salvador, spoke to Colorlines by phone before the action. “We’re going to sit down on the floor of the patio and refuse to eat,” said Ramírez. “We’re going to explain that we’ve been here long enough.”
Ramírez says he fears returning to El Salvador where he’s already been tortured by police officers for refusing to participate in a drug ring. But what he faces in detention, he says, is not much better and that’s why he’s participating in today’s protest. ICE has been known to retaliate against immigrant detainees who demonstrate inside of its facilities, and it’s unclear whether Ramírez and others will be placed in solitary confinement for their action today.
The National Immigrant Youth Alliance has started a petition demanding the release of those asylum seekers who have already established credible fear.
A phone call requesting comment about today’s protest to ICE’s El Paso Field Office was transferred to voicemail, and wasn’t immediately returned.