Washington: As many as 22 Indian asylum-seekers, all of them Sikhs, are on a hunger strike in a Florida jail, demanding that a local court should hear their bond hearing, prompting a US civil rights group to seek federal government intervention.
Local civil rights group American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have expressed concern over their deteriorating health and sought the intervention of the federal government in this regard.
"The situation is urgent because of these men's rapidly deteriorating health," said Shalini Agarwal, a staff attorney for Florida unit of the ACLU.
ACLU is working to get to the bottom of this, especially in light of US Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) allegedly responding unlawfully toward hunger-striking detainees in other immigration detention facilities, she said.
The 22 detainees, asylum-seekers from India, went on hunger strike when they learned that the judge who would hear their bond appeal at the Broward Transitional Center (BTC), does not grant bonds to individuals in their circumstances, even though other detainees in identical circumstances in the same jurisdiction are granted bond.
These Indian nationals were then transferred to Krome Service Processing Center in Florida. Based on promises by ICE officials that they would receive a bond hearing at Krome, they ended the hunger strike, ACLU said in a statement.
However, when the day of many of their bond hearings at Krome arrived, their cases were transferred back to BTC for removal hearings.
They went back on hunger strike on July 25. Several of them have now been hospitalised and are being threatened with force-feeding and the use of the Baker Act, the civil rights group said.
Expressing serious concerns about these events, ACLU in a letter to Department of Homeland Security alleged that ICE has jeopardised these men's health by making false promises of a meaningful bond hearing.
"We are especially concerned because we have heard about other situations around the country in which ICE and ICE-contracted facilities are alleged to have responded unlawfully to hunger strikes by immigration detainees, in some instances retaliating against the detainees by placing them in solitary confinement," the letter said.
"In other situations inviting consular officials of the country from which they are seeking asylum to exert pressure on the detainees," it added.