While around 20 to 25 students have opted for voluntary departure and are expected to return to India soon, the fate of the rest remains uncertain.

110 Indian students remain in US detention centres in Farmington University stingImage for representation
news Controversy Friday, February 15, 2019 - 19:16

When Siri* first moved to the US to do a Masters, she had no idea that she would be getting into such a complicated situation. “She’s lost a significant amount of weight, she hasn’t been able to eat the food that’s provided in the facility. Not just her, several others are finding it difficult because the condition of these facilities is not very good,” stated an official from Telugu Association of North America (TANA).

Siri is one among an estimated 110 Indian-origin students who still remain in detention facilities across the US following a sting operation conducted by officials from the United States Homeland Department of Security which targeted foreign students who were illegally staying in the country. While some students have opted for a voluntary departure, others await their turn before a judge. What they all have in common is that none of them know when they will be let out or what the future holds for them.

“This is how the US legal system works, so we can’t say there’s anything wrong in that. However, the fact is that the Ministry of External Affairs in India is not taking enough initiative. We had approached KTR who spoke to Sushma Swaraj on behalf of all these students, but not enough action has been taken to help the students still detained,” says Parmesh Bheemreddy, President of the American Telugu Association (ATA).

Expecting delays

As of Thursday evening, Indian Standard Time (IST), it is estimated that anywhere between 100 and 110 Indian students remain detained. While some students have, on the advice of attorneys, opted for voluntary departure and are willing to return to India, not all of them have been granted the same by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. Others yet, are waiting for their court hearing dates so they can appeal before a judge. However, as Parmesh tells TNM, this could take anywhere from several weeks to months, given that the legal system and proceedings take time. “The other problem that we are trying to address is that in the case of some students, the ICE attorneys have filed a charge of fraud against them, so they have to fight the case. This makes it more complicated when we try to get the student out on a bail bond,” he explains.

He adds that unless the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in India gets more involved, the students’ fate remains uncertain. “Even of the ones who are willing for voluntary departure, not all are being granted the same. Maybe one out of three students is permitted to leave. Indian diplomats and officials from the Indian Embassy have all exhausted their resources. Unless Sushma Swaraj actively does something, we don’t know how long the students will have to remain in these facilities,” added Parmesh.

As of now, the officials have only been able to visit the centres to check in on the students, but are not sure of the outcome going forward. While several attorneys have stepped in and are working with the associations, government officials and students, pro bono, others are allegedly exploiting the situation and charging exorbitant rates from the students and their family and friends. Parmesh estimates that around 20 to 25 students will be reaching India soon, while the rest continue to languish. 

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