Nine of roughly a dozen asylum seekers at the El Paso Service Processing Center who are on a hunger strike have been thrown into solitary confinement and threatened with immediate deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The strikers, who are mostly from India and Cuba, are protesting verbal abuse and mistreatment from guards. They haven’t eaten for 40 days, are rapidly losing weight, and deteriorating in health.
“[My clients] told me ICE agents have threatened them with deportation as early as Friday morning, despite them being in no physical condition to travel,” Ruby Kaur, an attorney for two of the hunger strikers, said in a statement. “ICE agents responded that there was nothing that they could do and that they didn’t care.”
“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,” Kaur added.
As first reported by the Associated Press, detainees have been force-fed through plastic nasal tubes, resulting in nose bleeds and vomiting several times a day. Force-feeding is a violent and inhumane act, condemned by multiple human rights organizations.
“Medical ethics and human rights norms generally prohibit the force feeding of detainees who are competent and capable of rational judgment as to the consequences of refusing food,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement urging ICE to immediately stop force-feeding protesters.
Force-feeding and solitary confinement abuses aren’t the only ways in which ICE induces suffering in its detention centers. According to South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), the uncle of two Sikh asylum seekers attempted to deposit money into the commissary accounts of three strikers, but the money bounced back. This is particularly concerning, considering inmate accounts are usually frozen before deportation.
Hunger strikes in immigration detention centers are hardly new, but with the expansion of the detention network under President Trump, immigration activists are concerned they will become more commonplace as abuses continue to rise and go unchecked.
According to Freedom For Immigrants, a non-profit focused on dismantling the immigrant detention system, over 1,400 people across 18 immigrant detention facilities have participated in a hunger strike since May 2015.