5 South Asian men in detention reach 75th day of hunger strike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Jan­u­ary 16, 2020

JENA, LOUISIANA — Five South Asian men have reached the 75th day of a hunger strike in the GEO Group-oper­at­ed LaSalle Deten­tion Facil­i­ty in Jena, Louisiana where they have been sub­ject­ed to the tor­tu­ous pro­ce­dure of forced-hydra­tion and force-feed­ing. Accord­ing to med­ical pro­fes­sion­als, 75 days with­out ade­quate nutri­tion is when vital organs begin to fail.

Free­dom for Immigrants(FFI) has filed two com­plaints with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (DHS) Office of Civ­il Rights and Civ­il Lib­er­ties (CRCL) on behalf of the five men, demand­ing DHS address the sys­temic civ­il rights vio­la­tions the men have faced under ICE cus­tody. FFI along­side Deten­tion Watch Network(DWN), South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Together(SAALT), local advo­cates, and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als in the Louisiana area are warn­ing the men are on the brink of death and call for their imme­di­ate release.

The first CRCL com­plaint calls on ICE to use its pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al dis­cre­tion to release all five men. Each of them have for­mal spon­sors in the Unit­ed States com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing and hous­ing them while they fight their asy­lum case.

The sec­ond com­plaint, sub­mit­ted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Physi­cians for Human Rights, address­es the sig­nif­i­cant delays in receiv­ing crit­i­cal med­ical records from ICE. Begin­ning in Novem­ber, an FFI affil­i­at­ed vol­un­teer sub­mit­ted mul­ti­ple requests to ICE for these records, with the con­sent of the men engag­ing in hunger strikes. How­ev­er, ICE has refused to release these records. With­out this crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion, inde­pen­dent physi­cians can­not con­duct an assess­ment of the med­ical treat­ment these men are receiv­ing while in deten­tion.

“Under ICE’s own poli­cies, peo­ple in deten­tion have the right to inde­pen­dent med­ical eval­u­a­tion. How­ev­er, staff at the LaSalle Deten­tion Facil­i­ty have denied our repeat­ed requests, which were made in line with their poli­cies, for accu­rate and updat­ed med­ical records. This makes it impos­si­ble for us to have a clear under­stand­ing of the hunger strik­ers’ cur­rent med­ical con­di­tions and com­plete­ly negates their access to inde­pen­dent eval­u­a­tions, which is espe­cial­ly cru­cial as they enter the crit­i­cal time in their hunger strike when vital organ func­tion­ing begins to shut down,” said Dr. Cather­ine Jones, MD, a licensed physi­cian in New Orleans.

Exter­nal med­ical review of indi­vid­u­als on hunger strikes is crit­i­cal giv­en ICE’s long his­to­ry of sys­temic med­ical neglect writ large and spe­cif­ic con­cerns with the treat­ment of hunger strik­ers in its cus­tody. On Octo­ber 2019, Dr. Parveen Par­mar, a licenced med­ical pro­fes­sion­al, reviewed the med­ical records of a man who had been on hunger strike for approx­i­mate­ly three months while detained at the El Paso ICE Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter. Upon review of the med­ical doc­u­ments Dr. Par­mar stat­ed that it was “the worst med­ical care I have seen in my 10 years of prac­tice.”

Per ICE’s own stan­dards, indi­vid­u­als in their cus­tody and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives are enti­tled to med­ical records. Free­dom for Immi­grants has iden­ti­fied licensed med­ical pro­fes­sion­als in the area who are will­ing to review the med­ical records.

State­ments:

“The men in Jena-LaSalle are on the brink of death. They would not have been forced to resort to a hunger strike if the con­di­tions of their deten­tion weren’t so bru­tal and they were released on bond. We are extreme­ly dis­turbed by the pat­terns of abuse we’ve been track­ing against South Asian asy­lum seek­ers in deten­tion since 2014. No one should have to go to such great lengths sim­ply to have their cas­es heard and to gain their free­dom. They should not be in deten­tion in the first place and the only legit­i­mate alter­na­tive is release,“ said Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Inter­im Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT.

“On a recent vis­it to the men on a hunger strike at LaSalle, I was ver­bal­ly told one man being force-fed had a blood pres­sure that was life-threat­en­ing­ly low. Because we do not have access to his med­ical record, it is impos­si­ble to ver­i­fy and ensure he is receiv­ing the nec­es­sary med­ical atten­tion. No one should be sub­ject to tor­ture for sim­ply seek­ing a bet­ter life for them­selves,” said Michelle Graf­feo, a vol­un­teer with a Free­dom for Immi­grants-affil­i­at­ed vis­i­ta­tion group in Louisiana.

“The grow­ing num­ber of hunger strikes in ICE pris­ons across the coun­try are no coin­ci­dence. It is indica­tive of com­plete dis­be­lief in a fair legal process and the lengths ICE is will­ing to go to indef­i­nite­ly detain them. Some of these men have been locked up for near­ly 2 years,. We are deeply con­cerned that ICE appears will­ing to let these men die in deten­tion to make an exam­ple of them rather than be released to com­mu­ni­ty, where each man has fam­i­ly or close friends will­ing to pro­vide hous­ing and sup­port,” said Sofia Casi­ni, south­ern region­al coor­di­na­tor at Free­dom for Immi­grants.

“These men are demand­ing free­dom after months in abu­sive ICE cus­tody. They are brave­ly protest­ing with the only mea­sure that they have con­trol over — their bod­ies, which even ICE is vio­lent­ly inter­fer­ing with through forced-hydra­tion and feed­ing. The answer here is clear and can be act­ed on imme­di­ate­ly: ICE must release these men from its cus­tody or risk respon­si­bil­i­ty for caus­ing pre­ventable deaths,” said Silky Shah, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Deten­tion Watch Net­work.

Con­tact: sophia@saalt.org

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