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October 18, 2019
Yesterday we wrote about the death of Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, an asylum seeker from Cuba who had been in ICE detention since May; detention that was continued beyond his credible fear interview in August. Roylan apparently committed suicide.
The practice of holding asylum seekers in detention has been called out by Federal Courts. A ruling last year directed ICE to provide humanitarian parole for people seeking asylum. Another court this summer informed the administration that the blanket denials of parole in the southern district were a violation of law, and that asylees had to receive individualized assessments. The blanket denials continue. As noted yesterday, 9,000 of the 55,000 people being detained by ICE as of August this year had already passed a credible fear interview as part of the asylum process.
As the conditions in detention continue to deteriorate protests are increasing from within facilities. Roylan Hernandez-Diaz had just joined in a hunger strike a few days before he was put in isolation, where his death on Tuesday occurred. Freedom for Immigrants sent around a release yesterday stating:
This week, two Cuban asylum seekers detained at the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) slit their wrists and at least 19 others are planning on doing so in an act of mass resistance. Conditions and rights violations at OCPC have become so untenable that many view this drastic step as their only option to bring about change. The two men are in medical care, others have been placed in solitary confinement, and the situation is escalating.
Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert, a member of Freedom for Immigrants’ visitation network who meet with people detained to monitor human rights in the facility, has penned two separate letters to members of the New Mexico’s congressional delegation, urging them to: 1.) visit those who are protesting 2.) call for their immediate release and 3.) initiate a comprehensive investigation of the facility.
“The concern here is not false alarmism; at OCPC, a real tragedy is not just looming but already unfolding,” wrote Margaret Brown Vega and Nathan Craig, volunteers with AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert, in the congressional letter. “If the situation is not quickly resolved, more men will slit their wrists and large numbers of others will go on hunger strike.”
A hunger strike was launched by several men from India who had been held in detention over a year while awaiting the processing of asylum claims. Two of the men were deported during the hunger strike, but two others were eventually released - after 70 days of no food. From release on October 2:
Freedom for Immigrants and Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert are elated that Ajay Kumar and Gurjant Singh have both been released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in El Paso, Texas and are free to pursue their asylum cases free from the confines of immigration detention. They both faced over a year of prolonged detention. The men alleged that they faced due process violations, including the arbitrary denial of parole and that officials demonstrated bias in assessing their asylum claims. Throughout their time in detention, Ajay and Gurjant were supported by immigration advocates and members of the El Paso community who collected nearly 600 petition signatures to demand their release.
Their release follows a brutal hunger strike which lasted over 70 days at the El Paso Service Processing Center (ESPC). They were joined by additional asylum seekers, several of whom were deported in recent weeks. Medical professionals and advocates expressed concern that deporting these men in a weakened physical state, so soon after being subjected to force feeding could cause severe medical complications, and even death. Over the course of their hunger strike, all were subject to abusive force-feeding practices via nasogastric tubes inserted through the noses, down the esophaguses and into the stomachs. According to Ajay, the repeated attempts at inserting the tubes resulted in bleeding through his nose and mouth in addition to causing difficulty breathing. U.S. District Judge Frank Montavalo described the treatment of the El Paso hunger strikers as “worst medical care I have seen in my ten years of practice.”
The same release notes that hunger strikes are one of the few means of protest available to detainees:
Hunger strikes are often the only form of peaceful protest people in immigration detention have at their disposal to bring attention to the harsh and degrading conditions in ICE custody. Freedom for Immigrants has documented at least 1,396 people on hunger strike and 18 detention facilities since May 2015. In addition to the recent hunger strike in El Paso, Freedom for Immigrants documented hunger strikes at two separate facilities in Louisiana in August of this year. Many of the hunger strikers in this instance also cited lengthy periods of detention and arbitrary denial of parole as a motivation for their protest.
Currently the Department of Homeland Security is not updating Immigration and Custom Enforcement detention numbers online - as it was mandated to do by Congress last year. So, current detention numbers are hard to locate. However, we know that the daily average figure is over 50,000 and that the administration is seeking budgetary approval to hold a daily average of 54,000 in FY 2020. This increase is completely unnecessary. Asylum seekers should be granted humanitarian parole - they will show up for their court hearings. And, there is absolutely no reason that anyone should remain in custody after passing a credible fear interview, because at that point the immigration courts have determined there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the asylum process. Which is to say, at that point, Trump’s primary talking about people gaming the system is moot.
As detentions increase, conditions decline, and the desperation of those being held in cages manifests in ever dangerous modes of resistance. This entire system is a violation of human rights, and is effectively torture. We are breaking people down for the sake of deterring others from even trying to come here. Congress must act!