El Paso Processing Center, El Paso, Texas
October, 2019 (exact start date unknown) – Ongoing
According to a joint press release by three immigrant advocacy groups, three detainees at the El Paso Processing Center began hunger strikes between October and December 2019.
According to Rebekah Entralgo with the immigrant advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants, as of January 7 two detainees were continuing their hunger strike, which had reached 63 days, and a third had been released from detention.
Since at least December 12, the strikers have been force-fed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents using tubes forced in their nose and down to their stomach.
One detainee began their strike with at least five other prisoners at the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana before being transferred to the ICE-operated El Paso facility.
The prisoners began their action to call for their freedom, and in response to denial of due process. According to a confidential letter from a prisoner on strike, “out of desperation I am having to adopt the option of being on hunger strike.” Another writes in an anonymous letter, “…I will face every difficulty to gain my freedom. I have only one demand that I want freedom and I want to fight my case from outside.”
ICE Spokeswoman for the El Paso office Leticia Zamarripa refused to comment on the hunger strike or the force-feeding of detainees.
Nathan Craig, Ph.D., with the immigrant rights group Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID), alleged that ICE is creating conditions that lead to hunger strikes:
“Through prolonged incarceration of asylum seekers, ICE creates the conditions that cause hunger strikes. People want to be free, that thirst for freedom is a founding premise of our nation, a value we hold dear. These asylum seekers are not a threat to society and by ICE’s own priorities should be released, which is what these men want. Instead, ICE uses extreme, shamefully unethical, and outright punitive medical responses to a non-medical problem that is of ICE’s own creation–unjust detention. The entire situation of asylum seekers hunger striking would go away if ICE followed its own written priorities and refrained from jailing persons lawfully applying for humanitarian aid who pose no danger to society. Until ICE ends the cruel practice of detention, a form of enforcement through deterrence, which is clearly the root cause of these protests, the hunger strikes will continue in the future.”
A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups operating under the banner End Force-Feeding Now, is gathering signatures for a petition demanding that ICE stop force-feeding detainees.
The immigrant advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants has documented at least 1,600 people on hunger strike at 20 detention facilities since May 2015. Freedom for Immigrants documented hunger strikes at five separate facilities in Louisiana this year alone. The majority of the hunger strikers were asylum seekers who cited lengthy periods of detention in inhumane conditions, and arbitrary denial of parole and bond as a motivation for their protest.
Freedom for Immigrants has also filed two complaints with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The first calls for their release, and the second addresses lack of information shared with physicians on the health of the strikers.
“5 South Asian men in detention reach 75h day of hunger strike“, Freedom for Immigrants, January 16, 2020
“ICE initiates force-feeding process for South Asian asylum seekers on hunger strike“, SAALT, December 13, 2019.
Rebekah Entralgo, Media Advocacy Specialist, Freedom for Immigrants, Personal Interview, January 6, 2020.
Header photo source: Inmate Aid
Article published: December 30, 2019. Updated January 23, 2019.