ICE yet again seeks to deport hunger strikers in poor health
Around noon yesterday two of the men on hunger strike at the Otero County Processing Center (New Mexico) were transferred to the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado. On Friday afternoon, their attorney met with the Supervisory Deportation and Detention Officer to discuss their release, and there were no indications they would be transferred. On Day 12 of their hunger strike, with some men refusing liquids, they were abruptly moved far from attorneys and advocates who were supporting them. Last week ICE quickly deported another man, on his 8th day without eating, who was participating in the Otero hunger strike. This recent development is an escalation of ICE’s retaliatory practices against hunger strikers, something ICE denies that they do.
Hunger strikers who have not eaten for nearly two weeks, some of whom were not consuming water, are not medically fit to travel long distances. The transfer is not consistent with ICE’s own transfer directive which is “meant to minimize, to the extent possible, detainee transfers outside the area of responsibility and to provide cost savings to the agency.” The directive instructs ICE not to make a transfer when there is an attorney of record within the area of responsibility and when there are pending proceedings. It is key to note that this transfer was not just done by some low-level ICE official but involved the participation of ICE supervisors. These kinds of transfers must be approved by the Assistant Field Office Director level or higher, and the reasons for transfer must be documented in the detained person’s file. This abrupt transfer in light of heightened scrutiny of the detention facilities in this area points to the continued problems with higher-level officials at the El Paso ICE Field Office. They continue to try to hide the chronic problems at the Otero and El Paso facilities, cultivating a climate that permits ICE employees and contracted staff to violate rules and the rights of those in their custody with impunity.
ICE’s Performance Based National Detention Standards indicate that a detained person on hunger strike “may be transferred to a community hospital or a detention facility appropriately equipped for treatment.” In the past, transfers of individuals on hunger strike have been from the Otero to the El Paso detention facility, a short distance and within the same area of responsibility. While a transfer may be made to provide appropriate medical care, given where these men were taken, that is not the case.
The Aurora facility was one of four facilities that were the subject of a recent Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General report that found significant and troubling violations of detention standards. Even more concerning, the American Immigration Council filed a complaint detailing how medical care at the facility was “dangerously inadequate.” This facility is where ICE chose to move these asylum seekers who are in a very delicate state.
Colorado Representative Diana De Gette said “we need to close this facility” while Colorado US Representative Jason Crow began making weekly oversight visits to Aurora because of troubling reports about medical conditions “and ICE’s refusal to claim responsibility for medical conditions.”
The inhumane conditions of immigration detention and the lack of due process in the immigration courts are the root causes of hunger strikes among people detained by ICE.
“I am representing six hunger strikers from Otero,” Linda Corchado, Director of Legal Services at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said. “A majority never had the opportunity to present their cases before the Immigration Court because the immigration judge refused to give them more time to seek counsel. All speak Hindi and they all made the arduous journey to reach our country to seek refuge, as political activists in India, they believe in democracy, in freedom of speech and assembly and here, in our country, they have been placed in isolation and disregarded by our own immigration system. Our country has failed them, yet they continue to strike in protest, because they still feel now, even as all the odds continue to be stacked against them, that as human beings, they deserve the same dignity that we all enjoy.”
When faced with insurmountable odds and blatant discrimination, asylum seekers find themselves in an impossible situation of detention without end. These men simply want their freedom, a basic right that the U.S. is denying to the more than 50,000 individuals who find themselves languishing in detention facilities that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the DHS OIG recognize and acknowledge violate the rights of those detained on a daily basis.
Rather than release these asylum seekers, or the four asylum seekers on day 20 of their hunger strike at the El Paso Service Processing Center, or the man on hunger strike at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, to their sponsors and family members, ICE chooses to either subject them to impending deportation or torturous force-feeding. Contrary to ICE’s claims that they monitor the health and respect the rights of detained individuals who go on hunger strike, they simply respond with greater secrecy and cruelty. We call on Congress to end immigration detention. We call on Congress to stop the removal of hunger strikers in immigration detention and demand that ICE release them now!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 28, 2019
Linda Corchado, lindacorchado[at]las-americas.org