NEW DELHI — U.S. authorities have begun pressing the Indian government to resolve more than 270 outstanding deportation cases involving Indian nationals, Indian officials said Friday.
Indian officials said they know little about the specifics of the cases and could not tell from their own data whether people had overstayed visas or were convicted of more serious criminal offenses.
“This is an ongoing matter,” Gopal Baglay, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said in a statement. U.S. authorities had conveyed to India that the cases were pending, but “no details of these cases were provided. We have asked for the same,” Baglay said.
The request — which U.S. immigration officials insisted was routine — was nonetheless significant because it comes at a time when the administration of President Trump has launched raids and other wide-ranging efforts to arrest and deport many of the United States’ 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, particularly those with criminal backgrounds.
“Each country has an obligation under international law to accept the return of its nationals who are not eligible to remain in the United States or any other country,” said Brendan Raedy, a public affairs officer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He added that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has made clear that ICE will no longer exempt “classes or categories” of illegal immigrants from potential enforcement.
A rising number of Indians are living illegally in the United States — an estimated half a million people — according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center.
Returning them to their home country, particularly if they are criminals, has not always been easy. India has been dropped from a list of 20 countries labeled “recalcitrant” in accepting their citizens who have been convicted of crimes in the United States or overstayed their visas, and have deportation orders issued by a court.
According to a list released last year by then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), now the U.S. attorney general, about 180,000 people have been ordered deported from the United States but are still in the country because their home countries won’t issue travel documents so they can return. Among them are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Indians.
Not all have criminal convictions, but among those who do, traffic offenses, especially driving under the influence of alcohol, are the biggest category, followed by drug offenses and larceny.
Countries on the “recalcitrant” list are often slow to issue travel papers because original documents have been destroyed and because their economies rely in part on money sent home to relatives.
An Indian government official said that the 271 cases in question were part of a tranche of more than 300 that had been left over from previous administrations, 79 of which had been resolved.
India’s minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, first raised the issue on the floor of Parliament on Thursday, saying that her country would not be providing return travel documentation for the deportees without their case information.
“Until we verify the nationalities of these people, how do we believe the claims in the list?” Swaraj said. “We have asked the U.S. government for more information and told them that we will give an emergency certificate for their deportation only after establishing their Indian nationalities.”
Morello reported from Washington.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that India was on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement list of countries that were slow to accept deportees. India was removed from that list in December.