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 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.
One of the three south Asian men currently in the El Paso facility was recently transferred by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from Louisiana where he began his hunger strike. 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.
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.
Force-feeding has been denounced as torture by the United Nations, Physicians for Human Rights, the American Medical Association, and the World Medical Association. In the case of all men force-fed this year at El Paso, the size of the feeding tubes used is 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.
“Reports about asylum-seeking hunger strikers being force-fed at immigration detention facilities are horrifying. They add another layer of indecency to the already disgraceful conditions and inhumane treatment faced by people seeking asylum in this country, at the hands of our own government,” Dr. Ranit Mishori, MD, MHS, Senior Medical Advisor at Physicians for Human Rights said. “Force feeding, especially when carried out by medical professionals, is ethically unacceptable. This practice is condemned by national and international medical organizations and experts and violates a detainee’s right to refuse treatment and to use a hunger strike as a form of political dissent. No competent, non-consenting adult should be force-fed against their will.”
The men on hunger strike are calling for their freedom and protesting their detention, in some cases for well over a year, and denial of due process.
“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,” Mr. Singh (whose name has been changed to protect his identity), an Indian asylum seeker fleeing religious persecution detained at Jena-LaSalle on hunger strike since October 31, 2019, wrote in a statement. Mr. Singh is being subjected to forced hydration.
Forced medical treatment of asylum seekers on hunger strike is becoming more common in ICE detention facilities, especially at El Paso. Since January, 16 people have been or are currently being subjected to medically unethical and punitive force-feeding practices at that detention facility.
In August one man was deported on day 63 of his hunger strike in extremely poor medical condition. Two others, Ajay Kumar and Gurjant Singh persisted on hunger strike for 75 days until ICE granted them the freedom to pursue their asylum cases out of detention.
“Through prolonged incarceration of asylum seekers, ICE creates the conditions that cause hunger strikes. People want to be free, that thirst for freedom is a founding premise of our nation, a value we hold dear. These asylum seekers are not a threat to society and by ICE’s own priorities should be released, which is what these men want. Instead, ICE uses extreme, shamefully unethical, and outright punitive medical responses to a non-medical problem that is of ICE’s own creation–unjust detention. The entire situation of asylum seekers hunger striking would go away if ICE followed its own written priorities and refrained from jailing persons lawfully applying for humanitarian aid who pose no danger to society. Until ICE ends the cruel practice of detention, a form of enforcement through deterrence, which is clearly the root cause of these protests, the hunger strikes will continue in the future,“ Nathan Craig, Ph.D., Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) said.
Freedom for Immigrants has documented at least 1,600 people on hunger strike at 20 detention facilities since May 2015. Freedom for Immigrants documented hunger strikes at five separate facilities in Louisiana this year alone. The majority of the hunger strikers were asylum seekers who cited lengthy periods of detention in inhumane conditions, and arbitrary denial of parole and bond as a motivation for their protest.
“When an individual in detention goes on hunger strike, it means they are willing to put their body on the line in nonviolent protest to demand justice,” said Sofia Casini, Southern Regional Coordinator with Freedom for Immigrants. “These men deserve their freedom and autonomy. The significant spike in the number of hunger strikes from within ICE detention centers in the past year is no coincidence: its indicative of the lengths this administration is willing to go to in holding people captive, and people’s desperate desire to fight back to be free.”
“We are extremely disturbed by the patterns of abuse against South Asian asylum seekers in detention, which SAALT has been tracking with our partners since 2014. Indefinite detention, mistreatment and abuse by ICE agents, violent force-feeding in response to hunger strikes, and ultimately the deportation of asylum seekers back to the dangerous conditions from which they are fleeing – all underscore the need to abolish detention and overhaul our immigration policies. 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, SAALT
Over 34,000 South Asian migrants were apprehended at U.S. borders since 2008. The number of Indian migrants at the border tripled from almost 3,000 in 2017 to nearly 9,000 in 2018. South Asian Americans Leading Together (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.