S. Fla. ICE de­tainees on hunger strike

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Garance Burke and Martha Men­doza

Im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials are force-feed­ing some im­mi­grants who were re­fus­ing food in a de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity.

Fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials are force-feed­ing six im­mi­grants through plas­tic nasal tubes dur­ing a hunger strike that’s gone on for a month in­side a Texas de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity, The As­so­ci­ated Press has learned.

U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment says

11 de­tainees at the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter have been re­fus­ing food, some for more than 30 days. De­tainees who reached the AP, along with a rel­a­tive and an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing hunger strik­ers, said nearly

30 de­tainees from In­dia and Cuba have been re­fus­ing to eat, and some are now so weak they can­not stand up or talk.

An­other four de­tainees are on hunger strikes in the agency’s Miami, Phoenix, San Diego and San Fran­cisco ar­eas of re­spon­si­bil­ity, said ICE spokes­woman Leti­cia Za­mar­ripa on Wed­nes­day.

The men say they stopped eat­ing to protest ver­bal abuse and threats of de­por­ta­tion from guards. They are also up­set about lengthy lock ups while await­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

In mid-Jan­uary, two weeks af­ter they stopped eat­ing, a fed­eral judge au­tho­rized force-feed­ing of some El Paso de­tainees, Za­mar­ripa said. She did not im­me­di­ately ad­dress the de­tainees’ al­le­ga­tions of abuse but did say the El Paso Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter would fol­low the fed­eral stan­dards for care.

ICE of­fi­cials say they closely mon­i­tor the food and wa­ter in­take of de­tainees iden­ti­fied as be­ing on a hunger strike to pro­tect their health and safety.

The men with nasal tubes are hav­ing per­sis­tent nose bleeds, and are vom­it­ing sev­eral times a day, said Am­rit Singh, whose two neph­ews from the In­dian state of Pun­jab have been on hunger strike for about a month.

“They are not well. Their bod­ies are re­ally weak, they can’t talk and they have been hos­pi­tal­ized, back and forth,” said Singh, from Cal­i­for­nia. “They want to know why they are still in the jail and want to get their rights and wake up the gov­ern­ment im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.”

Singh’s neph­ews are both seek­ing asy­lum. Court records show they pleaded guilty to a mis­de­meanor charge in Septem­ber af­ter il­le­gally walk­ing across the bor­der near El Paso.

There have been high­pro­file hunger strikes around the coun­try at im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion cen­ters in the past, and non-con­sen­sual feed­ing and hy­dra­tion has been au­tho­rized by judges in court or­ders. Me­dia re­ports and gov­ern­ment state­ments don’t in­di­cate im­mi­gra­tion de­tainees ac­tu­ally un­der­went in­vol­un­tary feed­ing in re­cent years, opt­ing to end their hunger strikes when faced with nasal in­tu­ba­tion. ICE did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to queries about how of­ten they are force-feed­ing de­tainees.

To force-feed some­one, med­i­cal ex­perts typ­i­cally wind a tube tightly around their fin­ger to make it bend eas­ily, and put lu­bri­cant on the tip, be­fore shov­ing it into a pa­tient’s nose. The pa­tient has to swal­low sips of wa­ter while the tube is pushed down their throat. It can be very painful.

The El Paso de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity, lo­cated on a busy street near the air­port, is highly guarded and sur­rounded by chain-link fence.

Ruby Kaur, a Michi­gan­based at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing one of the hunger strik­ers, said her client had been force-fed and put on an IV af­ter more than three weeks with­out eat­ing or drink­ing wa­ter.

“They go on hunger strike, and they are put into soli­tary con­fine­ment and then the ICE of­fi­cers kind of psy­cho­log­i­cally tor­ture them, telling the asy­lum seek­ers they will send them back to Pun­jab,” Kaur said.

Eior­jys Ro­driguez Calderin, who on a call from the fa­cil­ity de­scribed him­self as a Cuban dis­si­dent, said con­di­tions in Cuba forced him and other de­tainees to seek safety in the U.S., and they risk per­se­cu­tion if they are de­ported.

“They are re­strain­ing peo­ple and forc­ing them to get tubes put in their noses,” said Ro­driguez, adding that he had passed his “cred­i­ble fear” in­ter­view and sought to be re­leased on pa­role. “They put peo­ple in soli­tary, as pun­ish­ment.”

Those “cred­i­ble fear” in­ter­views are con­ducted by im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties as an ini­tial screen­ing for asy­lum re­quests.

ICE clas­si­fies a de­tainee as a hunger striker af­ter they refuse nine con­sec­u­tive meals. Fed­eral courts have not con­clu­sively de­cided whether a judge must is­sue an or­der be­fore ICE force-feeds an im­mi­gra­tion de­tainee, so rules vary by dis­trict and type of court, and some­times or­ders are filed se­cretly.

In Ta­coma, Wash­ing­ton, where im­mi­gra­tion de­tainees have held high-pro­file hunger strikes in re­cent years, courts have or­dered force-feed­ing at least six times, ac­cord­ing to court records. In July 2017, a fed­eral judge re­fused to al­low ICE to res­train and force-feed a hunger strik­ing Iraqi de­tainee who wanted to be housed with fel­low Iraqi Chaldean Chris­tians de­tained Ari­zona fa­cil­ity.

Since May 2015, vol­un­teers for the non­profit Free­dom for Im­mi­grants have doc­u­mented 1,396 peo­ple on hunger strike in 18 im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

“By starv­ing them­selves, th­ese men are try­ing to make pub­lic the very suf­fer­ing that ICE is try­ing keep hid­den from tax­pay­ers,” said Christina Fialho, direc­tor of the group.

While court or­ders al­low­ing force-feed­ing have been is­sued in cases in­volv­ing in­mates, Fialho couldn’t re­call a sit­u­a­tion when in­vol­un­tary feed­ing ac­tu­ally oc­curred in im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties be­cause the in­mates opted to eat.

The force-feed­ing of de­tainees through nasal tubes at Guan­tanamo Bay gar­nered in­ter­na­tional blow­back. Hunger strikes be­gan shortly af­ter the mil­i­tary prison opened in 2002, with force-feed­ing start­ing in early 2006 fol­low­ing mass re­fusals to eat.

Af­ter four weeks with­out eat­ing, the body’s meta­bolic sys­tems start to break down, and hunger strik­ers can risk per­ma­nent dam­age, in­clud­ing cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment, said Dr. Marc Stern, a cor­rec­tional physi­cian at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton in Seat­tle who has pre­vi­ously con­sulted with the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.

“You can be­come de­mented and lose co­or­di­na­tion, and some of it is re­versible, some of it isn’t,” Stern said. “The dan­gers are not just meta­bolic. If you are very weak, you could very sim­ply get up to do some­thing and fall and crack your skull.”

Force-feed­ing raises ethics is­sues for med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als who work in­side ICE fa­cil­i­ties.

The Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion has ex­pressed its con­cerns about physi­cians par­tic­i­pat­ing in the force-feed­ing of hunger strik­ers on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, and its own prin­ci­ples of med­i­cal ethics state “a pa­tient who has de­ci­sion­mak­ing ca­pac­ity may ac­cept or refuse any rec­om­mended med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion.”

The as­so­ci­a­tion also en­dorses the World Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion Dec­la­ra­tion of Tokyo, which states that when pris­on­ers refuse food and physi­cians be­lieve they are ca­pa­ble of “ra­tio­nal judg­ment con­cern­ing the con­se­quences of such a vol­un­tary re­fusal of nour­ish­ment, he or she shall not be fed ar­ti­fi­cially.”

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