57 days – 3 Indian asylum seekers enter 8th week of hunger strike

Under harsh treatment, 2 men end their hunger strike

Two months ago, a 4 asylum seekers began a hunger strike at the Otero County Processing Center. A week later, 4 additional asylum seekers began a hunger strike at the same facility. All of these men are from northern India and seeking asylum for persecution based on political opinion. They faced immigration judges who abused their authority, due process violations, and discrimination by ICE. Their non-violent protest and their struggle for freedom have been met with overwhelming state power, including torture. Numerous ICE officials, including field office directors, detention supervisors, and deportation officers continue to detain these men without cause. In fact, given their delicate medical situation, there is every reason to release all of them, including the ones recovering after ending their hunger strike, to a hospital. ICE officials refuse to budge, outright denying them the possibility of release while providing no explanation. In fact, two of them have been told they will be deported next month, despite their condition.

Of the three men who were transferred away from their attorney on July 30 to the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Florida, only one remains. Isolated and unable to make contact for nearly a month, he made a phone call to advocates on August 28. He ended his hunger strike 4 days earlier, while still in a hospital, where he had been for more than two weeks. When asked if he was okay he said he felt very bad. He indicated ICE was not medically monitoring him since returning to the facility. After having endured 39 days without eating, and forced hydration, his health is still in danger. Yet that same day, he began another arduous transfer half-way across the country. ICE transferred him again. Out of contact for five days, today he is now in a facility in Arizona. We have no news on his condition.

Another man, the youngest of both groups of asylum seekers, stopped his hunger strike when nurses at the El Paso Service Processing Center attempted to insert a feeding tube, causing him to stop breathing. He was given oxygen and asked if he was sure he wanted to have the feeding tube inserted. He declined, and agreed to break his hunger strike. In fact, this is the hoped-for response by ICE when they seek these court orders. They control people in detention through intimidation and fear. Having a near-death experience after engaging in a 40-day hunger strike, which involved multiple hospital trips for heart issues, is enough to scare anyone. A week after breaking his hunger strike, this young man was taken again to the emergency room yet again for heart problems. His health is still in danger. At 6’ tall, his weight dropped to 100 pounds while on hunger strike.

Three men who remain on hunger strike can no longer walk. One man, in his early twenties and 5’9’’, weighs 95 pounds. Even after ICE began force-feeding him, he lost additional weight. A second man, also in his early twenties and about the same height, hovers around 100 pounds. A third man, in his early thirties, weighed 160 pounds over a year ago when he first arrived to seek asylum in the U.S. He now weighs about 114 pounds. We have been visiting these men since they began their hunger strike, and borne witness to their physical deterioration at the hands of ICE.

Because the tubes inserted into their noses that run down their throat cause tremendous pain, they have difficulty drinking water as they had been willingly doing before ICE began force-feeding them. They can barely speak due to the pain. Sleep is almost impossible because they are in constant pain. They bear pain in their stomach, kidneys, and heart, as well as constant headaches. In many ways, the men are in worse shape now than before the government sought to torture them by court order. ICE caused, and is now prolonging, their suffering, keeping the men barely alive so that ICE can continue to detain these asylum seekers for no reason. While ICE’s physician at El Paso, Dr. Michelle Iglesias, claims that forcing nutrients is the only way to treat these men, an independent medical assessment indicates they are being underhydrated and underfed. By the ICE physician’s own admission, no amount of force-feeding will ultimately keep them alive. But what ICE medical staff is doing is barely sufficient. If the goal is to preserve life, then the only option is to release these men to their sponsors.

Instead of choosing the simple and least costly solution, release from detention, ICE has activated three federal court judges, multiple government attorneys, and expended enormous resources to transfer these men to hospitals, and in some cases, to a facility more than 2,000 miles away, all to maintain their grip over these asylum seekers. ICE recognizes these men pose no risk to the community.

Many people might ask why these young men would put themselves through this ordeal. That is the wrong question. The question we must ask is why our government is doing this, and why many people are standing by and allowing it to happen. That ICE is increasingly seeking court orders to force-feed asylum seekers and immigrants they hold in their custody should alarm everyone. It is yet one more expression of the costly, deadly, and inhumane treatment exacted by U.S. government officials, and the Department of Homeland Security, against immigrants.

Take Immediate Action: Call on ICE and Congress to stop the force-feeding and to release these men immediately (sign the petition).

Background on South Asian Migrants: Over 34,000 South Asian migrants were apprehended at U.S. borders since 2008.  The number of Indian migrants at the border tripled from almost 3,000 in 2017 to nearly 9,000 in 2018. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and partners tracked a pattern of abuse towards South Asian migrants in detention since 2014 that drove many to hunger strike including: inadequate or non-existent language access, denial of religious accommodations, use of solitary confinement as a form of retaliation, gross medical neglect, and high bond amounts resulting in prolonged detention.

Larger Movement Call to Action:   The detention system is leading to the deaths and torture of thousands of people.  At least 24 immigrants died in ICE custody since the start of the Trump Administration. Since May 2015, Freedom for Immigrants documented nearly 1,400 people on hunger strike in 18 immigration detention facilities. There is no other option but to close these detention facilities. Our representatives have repeatedly said they care about our communities while simultaneously funding aggressive immigration enforcement through deterrence and deadly immigration jails.  Stopping the flow of money is critical to stopping the current administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.  We join immigrant justice groups across the country in calling for elected officials to #ClosetheCamps and #DefundHate.