Tibetan, Alone, Imprisoned: Free These Young Men Now!

New York, N.Y. An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. In these days when the world seems to have gone mad, from children being ripped from their mothers’ breasts on our borders to our president spreading lies and hatred daily, what can we as true Americans do? Like John McCain, Get involved!

I recently heard of two exceptionally brave young men from Tibet who are stuck in a federal immigration detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, one of dozens of for-profit lock-ups run by CoreCivic (formerly “Corrections Corporation of America.” Through our charity work, I have visited such facilities before and trust me, no innocent person should spend even one night in one…

LOBSANGTibetan Lobsang Gyatso lived in a monastery from age 8 to 24, waking every
morning at 4:30 to go to prayers. Photo courtesy of Lobsang Gyatso.

One of them is Palden Ladoe, who only wants what everyone wants: to take care of his mother because she has carried so much responsibility for many years; to find a job where he can work hard; and to find and marry a woman that will make his mother proud—although his mother admonished him to find a woman that pleased him, not her, because she was the past and he was the future.

Memories of his mother, sometimes overwhelm him. Recently after he had a visitor, he waited in the meeting room to be taken back to his room. A Guatemalan detainee and his mother prayed together at one of the meeting tables. Seeing this, Palden burst into wrenching sobbing. Only the mother coming over and comforting and hugging Palden seemed to staunch the ever-present grief…

The other, Lobsang Gyatso, lived in a monastery from age 8 to 24, waking every morning at 4:30 to go to prayers. Every visit home he watched his father, who delivered vegetables in the area, waste away from alcoholism, as the Chinese paid him only in alcohol, never giving him wages.

Elizabeth-Detention-CenterThe Elizabeth Detention Center, run by CoreCivic (formerly “Corrections Corp.
of America),” Elizabeth, N.J. Photo: American Friends Service Committee.

The tremendous plight of Palden Ladoe and Lobsang Gyatso, by no means isolated and sadly part of a Trumpian epidemic, was brought to our attention by Dr. Debra Gonsher Vinik, a Global Advisor to the J. Luce Foundation. She heads Diva Communications in Manhattan, where she recently completed the powerful documentary, Brightness of Noon, Part I, which focused on undocumented immigrants, and now is working on the second part, focusing on asylum seekers and refugees.

Debra thought this tragic situation would catch our eye as we co-host His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration each year at Essex House on Central Park (story), and our Manjushree Fund for Tibetan orphans support the Dalai Lama’s children.

Paldon Ladoe - 17 years oldPalden Ladoe with his mother and sister at the age of seventeen.
Photo courtesy of Palden Ladoe.

She also knew another of our Global Advisers is Lenni B. Benson, a professor at New York Law School and past adjunct professor at Columbia University who teaches both immigration and refugee law, and who also heads The Safe Passage Project. Lenni received our foundation’s Candlelight Award at the Indonesian Consulate last spring. Finally, Debra knows that many of our friends here in New York are undocumented and we are working hard to help them adjust their status.

Another dear friend of our foundation is Lobsang Nyandak who heads The Tibet Fund. I have learned much about the Tibetan-American experience from him as well as the many Tibetan-Americans who volunteer with our charities. I conferred with him as to the legitimacy of the claims and was assured they rang true.

Palden and Lobsang, I quickly learned, have much in common. Both were born in 1990 in Tibet, occupied by China since the year I was born – 1959. That is the year when His Holiness escaped with his entourage across the Himalayan mountains to neighboring India, where I was privileged to meet him a few years ago.

Escape_000106-birth4The 14th Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet into exile with Khampa bodyguards in 1959.
Photo: Office of H.H. Dalai Lama.

They both lived in the country with their mothers. Lobsang’s mother was an adherent to the Dalai Lama and he was raised with Buddhist teachings, joining a monastery at the age of eight. Six years ago, Palden, not schooled in the monastery, found DVDs lying aside the road six years ago about the life and teachings of His Holiness.

Several days after watching them in the privacy of his home, Palden was arrested by the Chinese military, taken to the police station where he was beaten and tortured for three days. The Chinese police wanted him to renounce the Dalai Lama as a “dog.” They wanted him to say His Holiness was a “separatist.” Palden refused. They wanted him to confess that is was he who had distributed the DVDs. He did not—he said he knew nothing, they had just been lying near the side of the road. Near the end, they broke his arm and then dumped him in a hospital.

Kazuko-03His Holiness presiding over the Kalachakra ritual in Bodh Gaya, India.
Photo: Jim Luce.

Lobsang studied at the Buddhist monastery until it was eventually raided by the Chinese police and the many sacred scriptures burned in a giant pile in front of the monks.

In their twenties, both young men began to protest the Chinese occupation. Lobsang had many encounters with the Chinese police but always managed to escape. At 2:00 in the morning, the Chinese military again came to Palden’s house, dragged him out of bed to the police station where they again beat him and pushed him to renounce the Dalai Lama. After threatening his mother, they brought him a document to sign in Chinese that he couldn’t read and then sent him home…

Paldon Ladoe and mom 10 years old?Palden Ladoe with his mother at the age of ten WHERE?
Photo courtesy of Palden Ladoe.

That night, Palden’s mother tearfully put him into a taxi to Lhasa where he was able hide until he could get someone to take him out of the country. His mother sold their farm to pay for his flight to America, where he got off the plane and asked for asylum. For a day and a half, he was kept in leg cuffs at JFK airport, and ever since, Palden has been detained in the Elizabeth Contract Detention Center. His request for asylum has been turned down because the judge considered him to be a Chinese national and not a Tibetan. His lawyer has appealed.

Four months ago, Lobsang also made it to America, with great sadness giving up on Tibet and leaving his mother for a better life. He hopes one day he can bring her over as well, but for now sits alone in prison.

I asked our Global Advisor, Prof. Lenni Benson who has served as Chair of the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and a consultant to the Brookings Institution, what we could do as a community to support these two exceptional Tibetans. She explained:


As Lenni is an emeritus trustee of the American Immigration Council, a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and has served on the Board of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, I believe her.


I wrote in The Huffington Post ten years ago about my congresswoman, Carolyn B. Maloney, has come to both my office and home and has been honored by one of our organizations — Orphans International — for her tremendous humanitarian work helping children. She has assisted our humanitarian aid workers with U.S. Immigration challenges — and simply been there for Orphans International. I reached out to her for and she shared:


Paldon Ladoe - 12 years old?Palden Ladoe with his mother and sister at the age of twelve WHERE.
Photo courtesy of Palden Ladoe.

Ten years ago, I also wrote U.S. Border Policy: How To Fix What’s Broken in HuffPo , a piece in which I interviewed Dr. Wayne Cornelius, a classmate of mine from the College of Wooster, who called America’s strategy of immigrant control wrong-headed and ineffective. It is that much worse today.

Wayne was then the director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California at San Diego. Today, this expert is focusing his research on Central American asylum seekers who transit through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. He told me:

The fate that has befallen these Tibetans has become more the rule than the exception. The Trump administration is systematically trying to block access to our asylum system for nationals of all countries. They are turning them away at ports-of-entry and detaining those who make it past their first interview, indefinitely.

They are systematically gutting the U.S. asylum system, both by drastically reducing the total number of refugee visas available (25,000 in FY 2019, for nationals of all countries combined, down from 85,000 in Obama’s last year), and by drastically restricting the grounds for claiming asylum (e.g., eliminating domestic violence, gang violence, and drug-traffic-related violence as grounds, which excludes 85-90% of Central Americans who are seeking asylum).

All this is being done through executive order and administrative changes, which the White House has ample power to do without Congressional approval. The ACLU and other immigrants / refugees’ rights organizations are litigating to block some of this but meanwhile the detentions continue.

Kazuko-05His Holiness the Dalia Lama in Bodh Gaya, India.
Photo: Jim Luce.

Finally, I asked Dr. Debra Gonsher Vinik who introduced me to these men where we should go from here. She explained:

I marvel at their strength and the humanity of these two utterly wonderful men. Lobsang’s prayers first are for Palden, not himself, as he knows that Palden’s been locked up for so long, and he’s suffered extreme physical and emotional torture. It is easy to feel helpless at their plight. But we don’t have that luxury. We can’t become discouraged.

We have to keep our focus on the value of these two men: on the macro level, to our country, as moral, hard-working, family oriented men; and on the micro level, as unique, funny, thoughtful people who are a delight to know and whose safety, since 1967, the U.S. has pledged to protect.

We must do everything we can to free Palden Ladoe and Lobsang Gyatso, imprisoned in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Emma Lazarus stated so eloquently, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

President Barack Obama stated at John McCain’s funeral in our National Cathedral, “John understood as JFK understood, as Ronald Reagan understood that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our blood line, not on what we look like, what our last names are, not based on where our parents or grandparents came from or how recently they arrived, but on adherence to a common creed that all of us are created equal. Endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.”

4856f8bdcbdb90d4d08167012a7c3daac95c8311The U.S. Immigration judge told Palden that Tibetans are “Chinese”
and dealt with him accordingly. Image: Wikipedia.

We need your support to do A, B and C (enumerate). Because whether our families came over on the Mayflower or a 747 from the Himalayas, we are all part of the American family as God’s children. And if it is not us who can defend the rights of all against hatred, bigotry and xenophobia, then who?

See Stories by Jim Luce on:

Children | Education | India | New York | Orphans | Tibet
Orphans International Worldwide | Young Global Leadership 

 The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) supporting young global leadership is affiliated with Orphans International Worldwide (www.orphansinternational.org), raising global leaders. If supporting youth is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here 

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

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Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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