Below is a complaint letter sent on 18 October 2019 by Cuban asylum seekers protesting at the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC). A scan of the original Spanish letter is provided first followed by an English translation. By last week, at least three individuals engaged in serious self-harm by lacerating their wrists using their identification badges. One other individual is on hunger strike. Throughout last week, large numbers of detained persons in multiple “pods,” dormitories composed of 50 individuals, were chanting “Libertad!” on a daily basis. Reports are that OCPC’s response to the protests is to place more than 50 individuals in disciplinary solitary.
To whom it may concern: 18 October 2019
I [name redacted] with A# [redacted] together with [name redacted] A# [redacted] and other Cuban comrades in the Otero County Processing Center detention center through this letter are denouncing the center and their procedure with the detained Cubans all of which come from a dictatorial regime for more than 60 years and now we find ourselves deprived of our liberty between 6 and 9 months already exceeding the time limit of the process in this way violating with the obligatory prolonged detention the constitution of the United States[,] in this center due to the immigration judges that attend to us in the center our cases as much for bond as for political asylum in the majority of the cases the judges have denied us for illogical reasons and pretexts without basis like for example cases in which the judges have denied us bond with the pretext and the justification that we are flight risks which is not made manifest since our sponsors have provided letters of unconditional support and recommendation letters with their corresponding addresses where our residences will be and they have submitted confidential information such as their personal earnings and telephone numbers to demonstrate to the judges that we will have unconditional support during our asylum process in freedom which demonstrates that we will not be a public charge nor do we represent a risk for the community. The majority of us are professionals with a high level of study and we want with our knowledge to serve the community and contribute to the country, we denounce at the same time the multiple cases in which we have been denied political asylum by the judges with the justification that Cuba has changed for which there exists no one who can confirm said justification. We denounce in this center the constant threat by the officials of the center to punish us in individual cells of punishment with the goal of repressing us and psychologically torturing us with the objective of making us have fear and making us deport ourselves to our country of origin from which we fled for the danger our lives were in, we denounce the racial discrimination as regards us only because we are latinos. We have looked for help with the ICE officials and they do not resolve our problems on the contrary, they reveal themselves as racist, xenophobic and bullies just like the officials of this center. Please we need help as soon as possible to whom it may concern we are desperate and we have already held various protests such as hunger strikes, some of us have even attempted to take our own lives and there exists legitimate proof of these facts please help us so that this comes to light the retention or obligatory prolonged detention of this center that violates the foundations of the United States constitution. We ask for justice and that someone investigate our causes and put an end to this injustice in this center, we are willing to testify to the free press or to whatever news medium the truth about the mistreatment and the constant threats to which we are subjected please, we ask for help and we ask as a measure of relief that we be granted a bond to finish our asylum process in freedom and with a court that respects the constitutional laws of the United States, a court where impartiality exists and will be just not like the Otero courts of which we believe and are witnesses that they are plotting with the owners of the detention for profit due to the fact that they are enriching themselves through the detention for indefinite time of the detained or Cuban migrants. Thank you for your attention and your dedication to us [,] thank you.
[name and signature redacted]English translation of Cuban asylum seekers protest letter 18 October 2019.
Below is ICE’s official statement regarding the protest. ICE’s response to Cuban asylum seekers so desperate for release from detention that they would attempt suicide was to place the individuals in solitary confinement. If in any workplace or school setting multiple individuals were attempting suicide and others were seriously considering following suit, the administration would be taking a compassionate approach to the situation. Mental health counseling for the pains of imprisonment and release from detention which is the source of depression are both steps ICE can and should be taking. However, so far their public response has been to downplay the situation. During a meeting last week between ICE and the Cuban asylum seekers, some of the protestors reported that ICE threatened to have the FBI investigate them and to place them into federal prison.
The Cuban asylum seekers protesting at OCPC are not isolated. There are other protests and significant happenings that recently occurred or are ongoing:
- More than 200 detained persons are currently waging hunger strike at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center, run by GeoGroup.
- On Tuesday October 15, after several days on hunger strike Roylán Hernández-Díaz died by suicide at Louisiana’s Richwood Correctional Center, run by LeSalle Corrections.
- Last month, after 75 days on hunger strikes that began at OCPC, and enduring weeks of force feeding, two asylum seekers from India were finally released from ICE detention. The men have not absconded and are attending all of their required checkups.
- Early August, more than 100 hunger strikers at Louisana’s Pine Prairie ICE detention center run by GeoGroup were pepper sprayed and shot at with rubber bullets. Many individuals were placed in solitary confinement and prevented from contacting family members.
- June 1, Johana Medina Leon died as a result of medical neglect during her incarceration at OCPC. The facility warden and local ICE officials attempted to cover up the incident.
Call for Release: ICE can release detained persons who are not subject to mandatory detention. We are asking for the release of not only the Cuban asylum seekers protesting at OCPC, but all individuals in ICE custody.
For Immediate Release
October 22, 2019