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.