Daily Dispatch 08/21/2019: Stand with striking detainees

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Daily Dispatch

August 21, 2019Over the past month hunger strikes and other protests have occurred within Immigration and Custom Enforcement detention facilities. In a string of reprisals against these strikers, security at facilities in Louisiana have used pepper spray, tear gas, and even fired rubber bullets at the detained men. ICE officials have also engaged in forced hydration with some strikers. 

Once facility operates under contract with Bossier County’s sheriff’s department, from , August 2:

Lt. Bill Davis of the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a “small disturbance around lunchtime” caused a lockdown at the facility for a few hours. He said that a group of about 30 ICE detainees began yelling at the lunch table, and though the immigrants didn’t get physically violent, deputies used pepper spray to “deescalate” the situation. One of the detainees had to be transported to a local hospital “for anxiety attack issues” stemming from Friday’s incident, said Davis, who denied that the use of force went beyond pepper spray.

The incident Friday seems to have started with a hunger strike that has been “going on and off for a while,” Nochomovitz said, because detainees wanted ICE to “come and let them know why nobody was getting out.” Last April, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an order directing immigration judges to keep immigrants detained instead of releasing them on bail; Bossier officials said the average length of stay for an ICE detainee there is between 60 and 90 days, but it can be longer. 

Davis said he had heard that the immigrants had complained about the long detention times, and the protest “appears to be linked to what they were overall frustrated about,” he said. “We are in contact with ICE officials to ensure that they do adequate visits with them, so that they can feel like their due process of law is maintained.” 

The next day at in Louisiana: 

American immigration officials used tear gas and allegedly fired rubber bullets on more than 100 immigrants conducting a hunger strike at a detention facility in Louisiana over the weekend,  just a day after as many as 40 detainees who were demonstrating against their detention conditions were reportedly pepper sprayed at a separate facility in the state.

The spraying occurred at a facility in Pine Prairie, where more than 1,000 detainees are held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a time, according to legal representatives for detainees in the facility who spoke to The Independent.

According to a legal representative with the Southern Poverty Law Centre representing a detainee who witnessed the incident, more than 100 detainees were sprayed and hit with tear gas by law enforcement "in riot gear" on Saturday in a central yard of the facility. Many were then taken to a separate facility for decontamination, and legal representatives have since indicated they believe those impacted are being moved to different facilities.

Freedom for Immigrants updates on these and other hunger strikes in Texas and Florida .

In Texas, an asylum seeker entering his fifth week on hunger strike at the El Paso Service Processing Center was taken to the ER on August 3. ICE denied a visit by his attorney while in the hospital. He along with three other asylum seekers have been subjected to forced hydration. The El Paso Service Processing Center was the site of a separate, large scale hunger strike in January 2019, in which a group of nine men were force-fed prompting a DHS OIG investigation.

In Florida, a group of three asylum seekers is entering their fourth week on hunger strike. The men originated their strike at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico and were abruptly transferred to the Krome Detention Center in Miami, where they arrived on August 1. According to ICE, the purpose of the transfer was to initiate force hydration by court order since they claimed El Paso was at capacity. 

The Quixote Center is joining with other organizations led by the Southern Poverty Law Center to demand that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General conduct an investigation into the use of force at these facilities.

Trump trying once again get around the Flores Settlement Agreement

Apparently failing to read the news about conditions in detention facilities around the country, or even its own inspector general reports, the Trump administration is claiming it can take care of kids as well as it takes care of adults, and therefore the Flores Settlement agreement should no longer apply.

The Flores Settlement agreement governs the treatment of children held in immigrant detention. It is the result of the lawsuit filed during the Reagan administration on behalf children from El Salvador who were detained indefinitely in facilities along with other adults. The Settlement took years to be formalized as Reagan, Bush and Clinton all pushed back against any restrictions on executive authority to detain children. The Flores Settlement Agreement went into effect in 1997 as a result of the law suit, and in the absence of legislative or executive action to protect the rights of immigrant children. Among other things, it requires that children be detained in the least restrictive environment possible (least “prison-like”), and that they not be held in unlicensed facilities for longer than 20 days.

In 2015, the Obama administration fought the application of the Flores Settlement Agreement to children held with parents in Immigration and Custom Enforcement facilities - which are not licensed to care for children. Obama’s administration lost the case, and since then Flores has applied to families as well - and this is the rub for Trump. He does not want to release any adults - even parents with children - while they await processing of asylum claims or other immigration review process. Under Flores, the administration has to release families with children after 20 days.

So, Trump is saying that ICE can meet the standards set forth by Flores for the treatment of children, even in the absence of a state license for child care and parallel oversight process. Given the treatment of children in other parts of the immigration detention network, and the well documented abuse of adults (see above story), it is hard to take this claim at face value. But he is pressing the courts to ultimately decide.

Next week the administration will announce a specific guidelines he hopes will effectively exempt ICE from Flores, and see where the chips fall. The rule would go into effect in 60 days if not challenged in court - it will certainly be challenged in court.