By Kishor Panthi
[Editor’s note: The following is a summary of stories and interviews published in New York-based Khasokhas, written by editor-in-chief Kishor Panthi, reporting on the number of Nepalese in detention centers across the U.S. and how the Temporary Protected Status recently granted Nepalese in the U.S. government may provide relief.]
Dozens of Nepalese illegally cross the U.S. border almost every day, some of them spending more than $50,000 each to get to the U.S. [Nepalis do not need tourist visas to go to Guatemala, so they fly there from Kathmandu and then go overland to Mexico and then the United States.]
Most of the Nepalese entering the U.S. this way seek asylum in the U.S. According to latest annual report of the Department of Homeland Security, immigrants from Nepal make the country number three on the list of countries with the greatest number of people seeking “defensive” asylum – that is, making a bid for asylum after deportation or removal hearings have begun against them. The number of Nepalese trying to illegally cross U.S. border has spiked up in years.
Some Nepalese attempting to cross the border have been caught by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) border patrol agents. Once caught, like people from other nations trying to cross the border, they are held in detention centers. Some are released within months and some get deported. The ones who are released are forced to work up to 12 to 14 hours every day to pay their debts off back home. The ones who get deported see their dreams crash.
Nepalese Numbering 111 in 29 Detention Centers
In the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has 82 detention facilities. Of those, 29 hold Nepalese detainees, in centers from California to Texas to New York.
According to ICE spokesman Vincent Picard, “Nepalese are detained in 29 of our detention centers. These numbers change sometimes depending on the increase in Nepalese being caught and also because they may have to be transferred to another facility. Thus there is the possibility of the number of detention centers increasing sometimes. But most of the Nepalese are in these 29 detention centers.”
Although thousands of Nepalese are rumored to be in jail, based on the field investigation and report from ICE, those rumors can be clearly dismissed. Picard says that he has never heard of such rumors.
The highest number of Nepalese in a single state are the 23 Nepalese held in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. Although most are caught in Texas and Arizona, they are handed over to the detention center in Georgia. In addition, Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center holds one Nepalese. Two are being held in an ICE detention center in Buffalo, New York.
Six different detention centers across Texas hold 19 Nepalese. According to Port Isabel Detention Center, there used to be three to four new Nepalese detainees every day being brought to this facility. But since most of them were transferred to other correctional facilities and some get released after paying bond, the number of detainees is relatively low now. Since the earthquake in Nepal, only a few Nepalese have been caught attempting to cross the border.
Seven Have Criminal Charges
Seven of the 111 Nepalese detainees have criminal charges against them, and they are in deportation proceedings. [Once the criminal court has reached a decision – or after a non-citizen has spent time in prison but hasn’t yet been moved to immigration custody prior to resolution of their criminal case – ICE may start the removal process in immigration court.]
This is the mandatory process for ICE to deport criminal convicts. Three of those detainees were in Virginia’s jail until mid-June. Two of them were deported in July, so now only one Nepalese detainee remains in a Virginia jail.
Similarly held under criminal charges are: two Nepalese in California, and one each in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Texas.
Hope of TPS
On June 24, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the designation of Nepal for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and that eligible Nepalese nationals residing in the United States may apply for TPS. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced his decision to designate Nepal for TPS for 18 months based on the conditions resulting from the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, and the subsequent aftershocks. As a result, eligible nationals of Nepal residing in the United States may apply for TPS with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
According to New York-based attorney Bashu Phulara, Nepalese detainees have started applying for TPS with the hope of getting released from detention centers. Some of the Nepalese detainees have been affected by the earthquake that struck Nepal on April. They have lost their loved ones and residences. A Nepalese detainee in the Port Isabel Detention Center, Mr. Adhikary said, “I spent more than $40,000 to get here. I have been here for seven months. Hopefully because of TPS, I might be released early. Then I can work and pay off my debt. We still have the American dream.”
Phulara said, “We have applied for TPS on behalf of many Nepalese detainees. We have been visiting them in detention centers. We strongly believe they can be released soon, and they still can achieve their hopes for the American dream.”