Immigration Advocates Warn of Physical and Mental Harm to Hunger Strikers in El Paso Detention Facility

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 15, 2019

EL PASO, TX — Immi­gra­tion advo­cates and med­ical experts are deeply con­cerned over the ongo­ing hunger strike at the El Paso Ser­vice Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter and the dire sit­u­a­tion fac­ing peo­ple held in indef­i­nite deten­tion, espe­cial­ly as their health dete­ri­o­rates.

The “El Paso 9” have been sub­ject­ed to bru­tal force-feed­ings, mis­treat­ment and retal­ia­to­ry actions by U.S. Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) and pri­vate con­trac­tors fol­low­ing their hunger strike, which began in late Decem­ber 2018. At least two of the “El Paso 9” have entered the 11th week of their hunger strike.  

Of the group of men who were on hunger strike or sup­port­ing the hunger strike, two have been deport­ed, three have been trans­ferred to the Otero Coun­ty Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter in New Mex­i­co, and four remain detained at the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter, two of whom are still on hunger strike and are in med­ical iso­la­tion.

Nathan Craig, a vol­un­teer with Advo­cate Vis­i­tors in Deten­tion, who recent­ly vis­it­ed one of the hunger strik­ers in El Paso, said, “At this point, hav­ing not eat­en since Decem­ber, he can bare­ly walk and hold up his head. In his frail state, think­ing and talk­ing are slow and labo­ri­ous. He must be afford­ed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to recu­per­ate out­side of deten­tion so that he can pre­pare for his mer­its hear­ing and cross-exam­i­na­tion.

Physi­cians for Human Rights (PHR), which has long argued that force-feed­ing against an individual’s wish­es is uneth­i­cal and inhu­mane, says pre­cau­tions must be tak­en to ensure those on hunger strike receive ade­quate med­ical atten­tion and accom­mo­da­tions. PHR also rec­om­mends that Con­gress fund alter­na­tives to deten­tion pro­gram­ming that rep­re­sent a long-term solu­tion to pre­vent human rights vio­la­tions doc­u­ment­ed in immi­gra­tion deten­tion. Below is an offi­cial state­ment by Physi­cians for Human Rights:

Hunger strik­ing is a non­vi­o­lent form of protest under­tak­en when oth­er means of express­ing griev­ances are unavail­able, and hunger strik­ers must be pro­tect­ed from any and all reprisals. Physi­cians for Human Rights calls for all pre­cau­tions to be tak­en to ensure that hunger strik­ers receive need­ed med­ical atten­tion, and that accom­mo­da­tions be made to ensure appro­pri­ate trans­port so that they are not injured. Not eat­ing may result in light­head­ed­ness, so wheel­chairs should be pro­vid­ed as need­ed.

“Exten­sive med­ical research shows that immi­gra­tion deten­tion is harm­ful and strong­ly cor­re­lat­ed with neg­a­tive men­tal health out­comes, while pro­longed or indef­i­nite deten­tion vio­lates the right to be free from tor­ture and oth­er cru­el, inhu­mane, or degrad­ing treat­ment.

“The U.S. immi­gra­tion deten­tion sys­tem has repeat­ed­ly demon­strat­ed a dan­ger­ous lack of account­abil­i­ty and trans­paren­cy, and the recent hunger strikes are just one more exam­ple illus­trat­ing this dire sit­u­a­tion. As a long-term solu­tion, PHR strong­ly rec­om­mends the use of alter­na­tives to deten­tion that are humane and cost-effec­tive and that have been proven to ensure com­pli­ance with immi­gra­tion enforce­ment.

In a sep­a­rate com­ment, Altaf Saa­di, MD, a neu­rol­o­gist at UCLA and a mem­ber of Physi­cians for Human Rights’ Asy­lum Net­work, said,

Pro­longed deten­tion caus­es sig­nif­i­cant med­ical harm to indi­vid­u­als due to both denial and delays in med­ical care, inad­e­quate staffing, puni­tive approach­es to men­tal health needs like the mis­use of iso­la­tion, and harm­ful con­di­tions of con­fine­ment more broad­ly like poor and over­crowd­ed liv­ing con­di­tions. The human toll of deten­tion is com­pound­ed for those already vul­ner­a­ble and suf­fer­ing from trau­ma based on per­se­cu­tion they have endured in their home coun­tries. We don’t want more patients join­ing the list of those whose deaths have been linked to sub­stan­dard care in deten­tion, nor do we want to see the last­ing impacts of deten­tion-relat­ed psy­cho­log­i­cal harm.”

ICE has threat­ened the hunger-strik­ing men with depor­ta­tion despite the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of their health.

Immi­gra­tion and civ­il rights groups are demand­ing the imme­di­ate release of the men and for them to be able to address their asy­lum cas­es out­side of deten­tion, as they should have been able to do from the begin­ning.

Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Direc­tor of Nation­al Pol­i­cy and Advo­ca­cy for South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) said, “These asy­lum seek­ers, like so many before them, resort­ed to a hunger strike to draw atten­tion to the litany of abus­es they face at the hands of ICE on top of the indef­i­nite delays in adju­di­cat­ing their asy­lum cas­es.  We demand the imme­di­ate release of all of the detained indi­vid­u­als so they can be cared for by their com­mu­ni­ty. And, we demand an imme­di­ate inves­ti­ga­tion into the civ­il rights vio­la­tions, retal­i­a­tion, and med­ical neg­li­gence at the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter, a facil­i­ty that SAALT and our part­ners have been mon­i­tor­ing and lodg­ing com­plaints about over the last five years. We know the treat­ment of detained indi­vid­u­als in El Paso is a micro­cosm of con­di­tions across deten­tion facil­i­ties in this coun­try.”

Media con­tact: Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org, 202–997-4211

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Free­dom for Immi­grants 

Advo­cate Vis­i­tors with Immi­grants in Deten­tion (AVID), in the Chi­huahuan Desert

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT)

Defend­ing Rights & Dis­sent

Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Project of the NLG

Detained Migrant Sol­i­dar­i­ty Com­mit­tee

Ruby Kaur -Kaur Law Pllc

La Resisten­cia