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.
“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.