Ritu Jha –
Nine asylum-seekers from India on hunger strike at the El Paso Processing Center in Texas are allegedly being treated inhumanely, being strapped to the bed and forced-fed, resulting in injury and mental trauma.
“They are on hunger strike demanding justice,” Preet Singh, an attorney representing detainees, told indica. Singh said that since January he has visited the detention center five times, adding that one of his clients has lost 10 pounds.
“They are strapped to the bed and force-fed,” he said, alleging the detainees’ ankles were bleeding from the experience but they were still forced to walk to the medical center.
“It’s inhumane to not offer a wheelchair and make them walk to the medical center,” Singh said. “Here if anybody orders a wheelchair they are provided but there they are not.”
“There are guidelines set by the United Nations and they (the authorities) are not following them,” he said.
However, Leticia Zamarripa, spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told indica, “At each meal, ICE medical staff offers the hunger strikers the option of voluntarily drinking their meal supplements and still remain on hunger strike. But they refuse to eat.”
Zamarripa said that as of 10 am (MST) February 5, 2019, nine individuals in ICE facility remain on hunger strike and were being hydrated and fed non-consensually under federal court orders.
“ICE Health Services Corps staff is medically monitoring the detainees’ health and regularly updating ICE of their medical status,” Zamarripa said, adding the loss of weight seen in the detainees and that the detainees being non-consensually fed are kept in the medical unit where IHSC staff monitor their vital signs and intake of fluids.
It was in November 2018 that a group of detainees housed in the Otero County (New Mexico) Processing Center went on a hunger strike for several days. Some of those detainees began another hunger strike in December and January.
The detainees on hunger strike don’t want to be returned to their countries of origin, a decision that is ultimately rendered by an immigration judge. The El Paso (Texas) Processing Center is an ICE facility. The Otero County (New Mexico) Processing Center is a contract facility that operates under an intergovernmental service agreement.
Singh, who represents several asylum seekers in Texas, said he been to many ICE detention centers, some of which are efficiently run, depending on the behavior of the ICE officers in charge, irrespective of the rules and regulations governing them.
“I’ve never seen this happen … The one near the border seems to be not so nice,” Singh said.
He was not sure how many Indians were detained in the facility but said that some people have been there for more than a year, of them having the same story.
Singh said they went on hunger strike because they were denied the opportunity to be given a just hearing in court.
“Justice that is what they want,” he said. “Given an opportunity to be heard, some of them got denied, especially in this detention center.”
His clients come from Punjab and Gujarat.
Meanwhile, SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) joined Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee, a community group based in El Paso and 25 partner organizations to submit a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, calling for the immediate release of the asylum-seekers on hunger strike and an investigation into the facility.
The petition states, “We the undersigned are deeply and urgently concerned about the treatment of immigrant detainees at the El Paso Processing Center in Texas. ICE officials are force-feeding nine asylum-seeking detainees who have been on a hunger strike, this practice must end immediately.”
Release the hunger strikers and provide them with immediate medical attention. Conduct an unannounced inspection of the facility by the Office of the Inspector General of DHS. Conduct immediate independent monitoring of the ICE facility in El Paso while investigations are carried out into allegations against medical staff and guards, including the review of facility video footage that documents incidents of abuse and mistreatment.
SAALT has alleged that the nine of 11 Sikh asylum seekers are being violently force-fed by ICE staff and late last week all nine were thrown into solitary confinement after refusing to be force-fed standing up.
Detention staff restrains the men and feeding tubes are forced through their noses, down their throats, and into their stomachs, according to their attorney Liquids are being delivered directly through IVs in their arms. They say they are suffering from rectal and nasal bleeding alongside persistent, crippling stomach and throat pain. Poorly administered IVs have left deep bruises on their arms.
The United Nations last week issued a statement voicing concern that their treatment might be contravening the UN convention against torture.
Lakshmi Sridaran of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said a press statement, “For years now we’ve tracked the physical and psychological abuse of asylum seekers at the hands of ICE staff in this facility. The intentionally opaque detention system makes civil rights and due process violations repeatedly possible with little oversight. President Trump is rallying for border security today in El Paso while ICE officials engage in a culture of violence and retaliation.”
[Photo Courtesy- Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee]