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Hunger-striking Immigrants at Border Detention Centers Forced to Hydrate

Lawyers and activists fear force-feeding may be next for men on a hunger strike at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities near the border. (ICE/Flickr)
Lawyers and activists fear force-feeding may be next for men on a hunger strike at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities near the border. (ICE/Flickr)
July 30, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hunger strikers locked up for months by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement near El Paso, Texas are being forced to hydrate after refusing food and most water for three weeks.

On Monday, a spokesman with ICE said detainees in El Paso and Otero, New Mexico, missed at least nine consecutive meals, triggering the agency's hunger-strike protocols that include hydration. Nathan Craig, a volunteer with Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention, said despite having credible cases for political religious asylum, the men have been stuck in detention for as long as 15 months.

"These men want to be out of detention. They want to be free,” Craig said. “These men are not suicidal. These men want to live, but they want to live under conditions of freedom, and they are willing to risk their lives to pursue that freedom."

The U.S. Department of Justice filed court orders last week related to non-consensual hydration or feeding for four men, according to a court official. Lawyers and activists worry force-feeding may be next.

According to Craig, some of the men have had their asylum application fully denied, and are due to be deported. But they still are stuck in detention, and have been for months.

Craig said the men have not violated any law - U.S. code says it is entirely legal to seek political or religious asylum in the country. He said ICE could release them at will, but instead is keeping them in conditions federal investigations have found are near to torture.

Margaret Brown Vega, another volunteer with AVID, said the Otero center has seen constant problems with sanitation and medical services. And El Paso is not much better.

"You're hungry all the time, and after a while, you just get used to it. It's often cold,” Vega said. “You can have the 'opportunity' of participating in the voluntary work program, where you would work eight to nine hours a day for $1."

Citing privacy concerns, the group refused to disclose the men's names or details of their cases. The men began the hunger strike on July 9, demanding they be released while they appeal their deportation orders.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM