July 14, Five Men Currently on Hunger Strike for Their Freedom

July 14, 2019
Media Contacts: Margaret Brown Vega and Nathan Craig avid@chihuahuan.org

Chronic Hunger Strikes at Otero County Processing Center, New Mexico

Chaparral, NM: As of July 9, 2019, five men at the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) are on hunger strike seeking their freedom from prolonged ICE detention. By the 15th, they will not have eaten a meal in six days; some of the men are not drinking water. In June 18 men from Cuba were on hunger-strike for over a week. These two recent hunger strikes follow 93 other hunger strikes that occurred last year and were reported in an ICE inspection of OCPC in January. Unnecessarily detained for an extended time, these five men now on hunger strike understandably now want their freedom. Our cruel immigration system replete with unduly skeptical immigration judges,  cruel ICE officials, profiteering private contractors, and inhumane detention conditions bring these individuals to this point of desperation. We call on ICE to immediately release these men on their own recognizance.

Handwritten note from one of the hunger strikers says, “If I died in U.S. Immigration Camp only ICE responsible for my death…”

OCPC recently received attention for abusive treatment of gay and transgender individuals held there. One of those individuals, Johana Medina, died in a local hospital after having suffered medical neglect at OCPC. In late 2017 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) noted problems at Otero, including an overall negative climate for those detained there. Government watchdogs, like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and advocates, like the ACLU, have highlighted on multiple occasions the poor and torture-like conditions that those detained at OCPC suffer. Frequent hunger strikes – non-violent protests aimed at forcing much needed attention to the plight of those inside – and their causes must be investigated immediately. 

Unfortunately, chronic hunger strikes at OCPC have gone unnoticed by the public, and are largely hidden from advocates. In fact, seven of the nine Indian men who were force-fed at the neighboring El Paso Service Processing Center (EPSPC) earlier this year participated in prior hunger strikes while detained at OCPC. They protested lack of due process and discriminatory treatment, and were eventually transferred from OCPC to EPSPC, where they were tortured in various ways that included using unnecessarily large feeding tubes and physical assaults. While that case received national and international attention and outrage, the fact that the roots of that action began at OCPC largely escaped public scrutiny.

Over half a year later, men who find themselves in a similar situation to those who were force-fed are now on a hunger strike in a desperate plea for justice and freedom. While rumors of bonds being granted to nearly a hundred people in OCPC are swirling, these men on hunger strike were systematically denied, and continue to be denied, bond. Though they have sponsors, pose no threat to the community, and are not flight-risks, they were swiftly denied bond by immigration judges. Area immigration attorneys openly acknowledge that the immigration judges in the Otero court do not issue bonds. ICE could release these men, but they have refused to do so. Forced to navigate their asylum cases while detained, these five men on hunger strike experienced the now well-documented obstacles that many face in detention – inadequate or complete lack of access to legal representation, little to no language interpretation, limited to no access to legal resources, and barriers to obtaining necessary documentation in a timely manner. In addition, they suffered discrimination at the hands of immigration judges, ICE officials, and privately-contracted facility staff. 

All of these men have been in detention for nearly a year or longer. They are suffering mental anguish for being denied their freedom without just reason, and for having to negotiate a nearly impossible situation. Their experiences, and their protest, speak to the systemic and chronic problems and abuses that characterize the detention of immigrants in the United States. These men must be released now and given the chance to properly pursue their immigration cases. 

Immigration detention is a morally dubious highly expensive and unnecessary institution designed to make people give up or go mad; ICE detention must be eliminated and replaced with community based programs.

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