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Punjabis seeking asylum attempt suicide

Their attempts followed the successful suicide of a migrant who had been in ICE detention for four years.

Representational image / SikhNet

Two Punjabi asylum seekers at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, attempted suicide at the facility on March 11.

According to witness reports from the immigration advocacy organization La Resistencia, the first suicide attempt occurred at around 3 a.m. A young man used a bed sheet as a rope, and tied himself to the rail of the second story floor of Unit B3 at the Northwest Detention Center. He then jumped down. A witness said some people tried to speak to him. Guards were called and the man was taken away.

The second attempt occurred at 6:20 p.m. that evening in Unit B1 at the Northwest Detention Center. Another Punjabi man also tied a bed sheet from the rail and jumped onto the first floor. Guards took him in a stretcher outside the unit. Another witness from unit B3 saw the young man in the stretcher with his eyes closed and his foot moving repeatedly. 

An ICE officer at the detention center said he could not confirm the attempted suicides. But Tacoma Police Department Officer Shelby Boyd told New India Abroad that police had been to the facility twice on March 11, the first time at 3:42 a.m., and later at 6:28 p.m. Both men were alive when police arrived at the scene for each incident. The men were taken to a local hospital. Boyd said she could not release any additional information — including the names of the two migrants — because of privacy concerns.

The two attempts occurred days after a migrant from Trinidad and Tobago, Charles Leo Daniel, committed suicide at NWDC, after 4 years in detention at the facility. Daniel spent much of his detention in solitary confinement, and developed numerous mental health issues believed to have resulted from his extended isolation. ICE officials did confirm Daniel’s death: he was 61 when he died.

There are currently 300 men from India being held at the NWDC, which is notorious for its practice of prolonged solitary confinement and denying releases on bond. NWDC has the worst rate of granting bond releases in the nation: only 3 percent of asylum seekers there are granted bond.

NWDC is a private detention center owned by the GEO Group. In 2022, the GEO Group made $1.05 billion in revenue from ICE contracts alone, or 43.9 percent of its total $2.4 billion revenue, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union. Critics say the prolonged holds of detainees at private ICE detention centers increases profits for corporations on the backs of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

About 200 men at NWDC have joined a hunger strike that began after the death of Daniel. The men are protesting “inhumane conditions” at the facility, prolonged time in solitary confinement, and no adjudication of their cases. They are demanding to be released immediately on bond.

Maru Mora Villalpando, an organizer with La Resistencia, told New India Abroad that her organization will keep a daily vigil in support of the hunger strikers. This is the third hunger strike this year at NWDC. La Resistencia has called for a Congressional investigation of the detention center.

Indians make up one of the largest "extra-continental" nationality groups apprehended at the southern border every year. In 2018, Border Patrol agents apprehended approximately 8,997 Indians. In 2019, 7,675 were caught, according to data from the Center for Immigration Studies. In total, the Border Patrol has apprehended more than 32,000 Indian nationals at the southern border between 2009 and 2019. Many travel through several countries, often on foot, before arriving at the US-Mexico border.
 

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