Escalation of ICE Detention Hunger Strikes

4 Indian Asylum Seekers Detained in El Paso on 25th Day of Hunger Strike

ICE transfers 3 other Indian asylum seekers to Florida on 18th day of second hunger strike in preparation for force feeding

EL PASO — Four Indian asylum seekers are entering their fourth week on hunger strike at the El Paso Service Processing Center, the same ICE jail which faced a separate, large scale hunger strike and where a group of men were force-fed earlier this year, prompting an investigation by the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. Three other Indian asylum seekers, who were detained at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, were transferred without notice to the Krome Service Processing Center in Florida and away from community and legal support. They are entering their third week of being on hunger strike. 

“The situation is dire. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not only subjected some of the hunger strikers to forced hydration, it has transferred a group of men across the country in retaliation for their non-violent protest,” said Margaret Brown Vega, volunteer with Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID). “All the men currently on hunger strike have been detained for over a year, with violation of their due process. They are demanding their freedom. Instead, ICE chooses to subject them to more suffering.” Forced hydration is carried out by a team of 5-6 people who hold the person down while an IV is administered against the person’s wishes.

Attorneys and advocates have had no contact with the three men transferred to Krome since they were put on a flight July 29 at 5 a.m. During transfers, detained individuals are unable to make phone calls or reach out. Even worse, they often are held in staging areas that are often kept very cold. This is dangerous for men who have not eaten and whose weight has dropped significantly. The travel, which is typically done in hand and leg shackles, is exhausting.

“Subjecting these three men, who have gone nearly four weeks without food, to this kind of torturous, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment demonstrates how little ICE cares about the well-being of those in its custody,” said Nathan Craig, another volunteer with AVID. “Ironically, ICE’s purported concern for the men’s health was the reason cited for their transfer to a destination where forced feeding is planned. ICE’s own hunger strike policies indicate that they could have released the men to a local hospital. This kind of days long cross-country transfer is incredibly dangerous for individuals who have not eaten for close to a month.”

Additionally, legal advocacy groups like the ACLU have argued that such transfers violate immigration laws and the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees due process. After a dangerous and unnecessary trip, these men are now located 2,000 miles away from their attorneys. All are represented.

Krome is a facility that, like El Paso Service Processing Center, has repeatedly force-fed detained individuals who are on hunger strike. The three asylum seekers just transferred to Krome face force-feeding under court order once it is sought in Florida. 

All four asylum seekers still on hunger strike in El Paso have court orders authorizing involuntary hydration and medical examinations. While three have agreed to drink water to avoid the forced and painful IV’s, one man continues to assert his right to reject such treatment.

“…yes they put IVs yesterday and today I think they put in the night. they say my kidney is not good.”

None of these asylum seekers want to be force-fed. They want to be free. They suffered a lack of due process at the hands of immigration judges who abused their authority, and are suffering unnecessary prolonged detention at the hands of ICE. At present ICE refuses to release the men, and instead will seek the federal courts permission to engage in what human rights organizations and international and national medical associations assert is torture.

As the Rev. Barber recently said in his Moral Monday meeting this last week in El Paso, it doesn’t have to be this way. We call on ICE to do the humane and just thing which is to release these men. And we call on Congress to intervene to ensure that these men are released to their sponsors and support communities before they die. Senseless deaths of people in ICE custody must stop. The simple solution to this widespread suffering, what the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights generally described as “torture-like conditions,” is to end immigration detention in the U.S.

August 2, 2019

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