Indian Asylum Seekers on Hunger Strike at El Paso and Otero Threatened with Force Feeding and Retaliation

July 22, 2019

Indian asylum seekers are on prolonged hunger strike demanding their freedom. At El Paso four men 14 days without food told force-feeding orders being sought today. At Otero 4 men 7 days without food report severe verbal retaliation and threats.

El Paso Hunger Strike

Four asylum seekers from India who began a hunger strike on July 9 at the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC), are now at the El Paso Service Processing Center (EPSPC) and were told that today the facility will be seeking court orders for involuntary IV and force feeding. These asylum seekers have been held for over a year in a facility that the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General recognizes is problematic due to punitive use of solitary, verbally hostile staff, poor medical services, and lack of sanitation. These men had their hearing in a part of the country that is effectively an asylum free zone, they faced an immigration judge that is known as one of the worst of the region, one that even facility staff claim “everyone is afraid of”.

Verbally berated with ethnic slurs, denied any possibility for release, and not allowed sufficient time to prepare evidence for their cases, these men faced unreasonable obstacles throughout the process. After languishing a year or more in detention with no end in sight, these men were left with no other options to call attention to their prolonged detention and unfair immigration proceedings, and to obtain their freedom.

On July 17 the men were transferred to EPSPC. Now on day 14 of their hunger strike seeking freedom, medical staff told the men that force feeding orders will be sought today (Monday July 22). The men are resolute that threats of involuntary force feeding will not prevent them from continuing their struggle. They are clear: they will not eat until they are free.

The World Medical Association condemns all force feeding and in the Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikes states that “forced feeding is never ethically acceptable.” The American Medical Association accepts the WMA’s position and denounces force feeding of hunger strikers as a violation of core ethical values. The UN indicated that force feeding of individuals held in ICE detetntion may violate the Convention Against Torture. Scholars of medical ethics observe that “hunger strikers are not suicidal-as a matter of fact;” they are seeking “to obtain recognition for and solutions to their demands, and they were willing to sacrifice their lives to that purpose if need be.” ICE can avoid repeating the national embarrassment of force feeding asylum seekers by releasing these men today.

OCPC Hunger Strike

Four other asylum seekers from India, and one other man from India facing deportation, have begun another hunger strike at OCPC. Now refusing food for seven days, the four asylum seekers began their hunger strike on Tuesday July 16 to raise awareness about their struggle and to insist on their freedom. These men are victims of the same problems: several have been held for over a year, have been berated by staff who used foul language and demeaning ethnic slurs, and they had to pursue their cases in an “asylum free zone” in front of  some of the most skeptical immigration judges in the country. No longer willing to remain in what the US Commission on Civil Rights identifies as “torture like” conditions and with no other option to secure their freedom, these men began a hunger strike to seek their freedom.

While ICE frequently asserts in public statements that it “does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers” there are reports that two ICE officers threatened the hunger striking asylum seekers. ICE officers told the men that if they don’t eat “they will go to jail for five years” and that in jail they will be held with criminals, beaten, and raped repeatedly. ICE officers also told the men that they were recording their phone calls and that if they spoke about the hunger strike to family members or outside groups, ICE would arrest those family members and allies in the public and put them in jail. The men were told that if they did not eat they would be subjected to involuntary force feeding.

Retaliation Against Third Party

Another individual detained at OCPC who had repeatedly been targeted and kept for prolonged periods in solitary confinement has wrongly been accused of helping to organize these hunger strikes and is again been thrown into solitary. Though he himself is not participating in the hunger strike, he indicates that facility staff are punishing him for his own attempts at speaking out about his treatment at the hands of ICE and facility staff.

We ask ICE to immediately release the nine individuals now on hunger strike. We demand an independent investigation into ongoing retaliation by staff against individuals in ICE detention. We call on Congress to immediately investigate systematic denials of release by immigration judges and ICE.

Media Contact: avid@chihuahuan.org

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