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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ICE initiates force-feeding process for South Asian asylum seekers on hunger strike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 13, 2019

ICE agents are force-hydrating at least five asylum seekers from India detained at Jena-LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana and force-feeding three South Asian men at the El Paso Processing Center in El Paso, Texas. The eight men have been on prolonged hunger strike, some nearing two months without eating. 

The five men in Louisiana are being subjected to forced hydration, which is carried out by a team of five to six people who hold the person down while an IV is administered. Local advocates say forced-hydration began on Nov. 18 and that the men are expected to face force-feeding by naso-gastric tube any day.

 All three men detained in El Paso, including one man who has been detained for nearly three years, are currently being force-fed via naso-gastric tubes. 

Force-feeding, a practice that has been denounced as torture by the United Nations, Physicians for Human Rights, the American Medical Association, and the World Medical Association, has been occurring in the El Paso facility throughout the year. Since January, local advocates report at least 16 people have been or are currently being subjected to force-feeding practices at that detention facility. All of them have been force-fed with tubes that are nearly twice the size of the tubes denounced internationally that were used in Guantanamo. Some of the men hunger striking were deported without a strict re-feeding protocol, a process which according to Physicians for Human Rights, can lead to death. 

Mr. Singh (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) is an Indian asylum seeker currently in the Jena-LaSalle facility who is fleeing religious persecution. In a written statement he said:

Since January 21st, 2019, I have been imprisoned inside four walls. For almost one year, I have been suffering. I have never in my entire life lived like this inside four walls nor am I accustomed to living in imprisonment. I do not know how long my asylum case will take, which is why I want to fight my case from outside this prison […] I only have one demand: I want freedom and I want to fight my case from outside. 

Over 34,000 South Asian migrants have been apprehended at U.S. borders since 2008. The number of Indian migrants apprehended at the border tripled from almost 3,000 in 2017 to nearly 9,000 in 2018. 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.

We are extremely disturbed by the patterns of abuse against South Asian asylum seekers in detention. 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.

Full press release with coalition partners here.

Media contact: sophia@saalt.org

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ICE officials throw El Paso hunger strikers into solitary confinement after altercation over force-feeding, says attorney

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, February 8, 2019

El Paso, Texas — The nine Sikh asylum seekers on hunger strike in the El Paso Service Processing Center (EPSPC) have been thrown into solitary confinement after refusing to be force-fed standing up, reports their attorney after speaking with a family member. Immigrant rights advocates, civil rights organizations, and local community groups are deeply alarmed by this latest development involving the nine Sikh asylum seekers who have been on hunger strike for more than 40 days to protest their incarceration at the EPSPC. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has responded with abusive retaliation, including force-feeding at least nine of the asylum seekers, a cruel, degrading and inhumane practice. ICE agents also threatened the asylum seekers with deportation as early as Friday morning.

“They have scars on their arms from IVs, and are suffering from rectal bleeding and blood in their vomit in addition to persistent stomach, chest, and throat pain. They recounted abuse after abuse at the hands of ICE agents and medical staff at the facility. They’ve lost 40 to 50 pounds,” said the attorney for two of the asylum seekers, Ruby Kaur, after visiting the facility on Thursday. “They told me ICE agents have threatened them with deportation as early as today, despite them being in no physical condition to travel.  ICE agents responded that there was nothing that they could do and that they didn’t care.”

Amrit Singh, the uncle to two of the Sikh asylum seekers on hunger strike, attempted to put money into the commissary accounts of three of the strikers and money was returned back to his card.  This development is particularly alarming because ICE frequently cuts off detainees’ phone accounts prior to deportation.

“We demand the immediate release of the hunger strikers and that they receive critical medical care,” said Nathan Craig of AVID. “ICE has a long documented history of abuse, clearly indicating that people are not safe in its custody. We call on Representative Escobar of Texas to stand with the migrant community and demand their release, while insisting on an independent investigation of the facility and ICE Field Office, yielding swift disciplinary consequences over the strikers’ treatment.”

Since May 2015, Freedom for Immigrants has documented nearly 1,400 people on hunger strike in 18 immigration detention facilities. A troubling pattern as President Trump continues to expand the detention system to skyrocketing proportions, leading to an increase in abuse and death. Since March of 2018, AVID volunteers have been collecting reports of large numbers of detained South Asians hunger striking at both EPSPC and the neighboring Otero County Processing Center.

“In the shadow of Trump’s border wall is immigration detention, a system shrouded in secrecy where a culture of violence persists,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of Policy and Advocacy for South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). “The retaliation and abuse that hunger strikers have been forced to endure underscore the egregious conditions endemic to the detention system nationwide. It also echoes the cases of abuse and torture of South Asian migrants in particular, in detention facilities in the U.S., including most recently at the Adelanto Detention Center in California.”

Sign the petition to support the hunger strikers at the El Paso Processing Center:  https://rightsanddissent.salsalabs.org/ICEForceFeeding/index.html

Media Contacts

Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org 202-997-4211

Liz Martinez, lmartinez@freedomforimmigrants.org 956-572-4349

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Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert works to end the isolation of immigration detention. Our volunteers are from Las Cruces, El Paso, and surrounding communities. We visit and write to migrants who are detained in El Paso, Otero, and West Texas. avid.chihuahuan.org

Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (DMSC) is a community group based in El Paso, TX, that fights to free the border from the criminalization and mass incarceration of migrants. We aim to reach this goal through support services, organizing, and actions that promote more humane public policy and respect for migrants and other marginalized communities.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the United States.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

Defending Rights & Dissent (DRAD) is a national civil liberty organization that strengthens our participatory democracy by protecting the right to political expression and working to make the promise of the Bill of Rights a reality for everyone.

DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving organizes low income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean immigrants, workers, and youth in NYC for educational, immigrant, racial, worker, and gender justice.

Freedom for Immigrants is Devoted to abolishing immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system. Freedom for Immigrants provides support to people in immigration detention and monitors and documents human rights abuses through a national network of visitation programs, a free hotline and community-based alternatives to detention. www.freedomforimmigrants.org

Ruby Kaur – Kaur Law LLC

National Immigration Project of the NLG promotes justice and equality of treatment in all areas of immigration law, the criminal justice system, and policies related to immigration. We provide technical assistance and support to legal practitioners, immigrant communities, community-based organizations, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens.