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As Hunger Strikes Erupt Nationwide In ICE Detention, Immigrants Subjected To Retaliation and Excessive Force
From Texas to Louisiana to Florida, detained individuals demand due process, an end to indefinite detention, and release to their families and community
LOUISIANA — Multiple hunger strikes are taking place in ICE jails and prisons across the country as the Trump administration detains over 55,000 immigrants in federal custody. Under the Trump administration, individuals are being held in custody for increasingly long durations and arbitrarily denied release to their families and communities. Detained individuals on hunger strike reported being subjected to excessive use of force and retaliatory measures.
In Louisiana, 115 immigrants hunger striking for over five days at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center were tear gassed, shot at with rubber bullets, beaten, placed in solitary confinement, and blocked from contacting their families or attorneys. Strikers share half remain in solitary. Family members shared video and photo evidence (as shown above and below). These photos directly contradict ICE spokesman Bryan Cox's statement to Buzzfeed saying that no one was injured and that only, "a brief, calculated use of pepper spray was employed Saturday morning."
Also in Louisiana, a group of immigrants went on hunger strike at the Bossier (Parish) Sheriff Medium Security Facility. Detention center staff retaliated against these individuals with beatings and pepper-spray.
In Texas, an asylum seeker entering his fifth week on hunger strike at the El Paso Service Processing Center was taken to the ER on August 3. ICE denied a visit by his attorney while in the hospital. He along with three other asylum seekers have been subjected to forced hydration. The El Paso Service Processing Center was the site of a separate, large scale hunger strike in January 2019, in which a group of nine men were force-fed prompting a DHS OIG investigation.
In Florida, a group of three asylum seekers is entering their fourth week on hunger strike. The men originated their strike at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico and were abruptly transferred to the Krome Detention Center in Miami, where they arrived on August 1. According to ICE, the purpose of the transfer was to initiate force hydration by court order since they claimed El Paso was at capacity.
“When an individual in detention goes on hunger strike, it means the person is willing to put their body on the line just to be heard,” said Sofia Casini, Southern Regional Coordinator with Freedom for Immigrants. “Multiple hunger strikes happening simultaneously are no coincidence: they are indicative of the desperation and suffering that immigrants are facing inside these human cages.”
In 2019, there have been a series of hunger strikes in ICE detention. In January of this year, a group of detained asylum seekers known as the “El Paso 9” garnered international attention after ICE proceeded to brutally force-feed them for nearly a month. The force-feeding caused a backlash from the public and 14 members of Congress, who wrote a letter to ask for an immediate stop to the force-feeding. Shortly after, 49 members of Congress wrote to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) demanding answers about ICE’s force-feeding practices. The OIG conducted an investigation into the matter, though the results have yet to be released. In March, 150 men went on hunger strike at River Correctional Facility, the private prison owned by the LaSalle Management Corporations in Louisiana, to protest their denial of bonds and unfairness at immigration and asylum hearings.
Freedom for Immigrants has documented at least 1,396 people on hunger strike and 18 detention facilities since May 2015.
“My son-in-law passed his credible fear interview and was granted parole. He was told by officials that he would be released in 15 days, but they deceived him. Instead they transferred him to Pine Prairie where he has been mistreated.” said Yanet Diaz, whose nephew Lisvani Perez Serrano was transferred from Mississippi to Louisiana. “They haven’t informed him about his case and he is constantly being threatened. He and the other detained men had no other option but to go on hunger strike. Soon after, guards attacked them with pepper spray and beat them. They shot rubber bullets at them, threw them on the floor and locked them up in solitary confinement. It’s hard to communicate with them. They have been on hunger strike for more than six days and many of them have been hospitalized. We demand that they be released and that their immigration cases are fairly processed. And if it’s possible, we demand that they get a new immigration judge because the judge in Louisiana is racist and does not truly review cases, but denies them all.”
“The peaceful protest arose from a demand that ICE respond to their decision to arbitrarily deny parole to asylum seekers who have been found to have a credible fear of returning to their home country,” said attorney Homero Lopez, whose client participated in the hunger strike and was placed in solitary confinement. “Over the past couple of years we've seen a sharp decline to almost zero in parole approvals for asylum seekers based on the repeatedly refuted argument that they are flight risks. This prolonged detention in rural, isolated towns makes it difficult to impossible for asylum seekers to access attorneys, physicians, family members, and collect the necessary documentation to present their cases.”
“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), El Paso. “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.
“ICE officials should exercise their prosecutorial discretion and immediately release the individuals on hunger strike in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana,” said Sarah Gardiner, Policy Director with Freedom for Immigrants. “Congress should request the results of the DHS inquiry into the inhumane use of force feeding to break hunger strikes in ICE detention facilities.”
Photos obtained via Yanet Diaz