After 68 Days, Hunger Strikers in ICE Custody Are on the Brink of Death

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Truthout - January 9, 2020

New Orleans, Louisiana — With hunger strikes sweeping immigration jails across the country, two Indian asylum seekers protesting their incarceration at a remote Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail in Louisiana are reportedly on the brink of death after refusing to eat or drink for 68 days, according to a volunteer who regularly visits the two men.

The hunger strikers have a clear demand: to be released so they can pursue their asylum cases outside of jail.

Medical staff at the LaSalle ICE Processing Center are force-hydrating both men, a painful and disturbing process that involves restraining the striker and forcing fluid through nasal passages with tubes, according to Michelle Graffeo, a volunteer with Freedom for Immigrants. Mr. Singh, whose name has been changed to protect his identify, described the forced-hydration process as terrifying and confusing because jail staff do not speak his native language, and videotaped the procedure.

“It’s a really scary process,” Graffeo said in an interview.

Both men fear they will face violence if they are deported to India and asked volunteers to keep their names out of the press. One is 37 years old and the other is 22, and both filed asylum claims after crossing at a legal port of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border before being shuffled through the nation’s vast immigration detention system.

Graffeo said the two men can no longer walk and are in wheelchairs. They could suffer organ damage or even death within a week, as many hunger strikers do not make it past 75 days.

“It’s a rapid decline at this point,” Graffeo said.

Three other men at the facility are also on strike but recently began drinking some fluids, and all five have been subjected to forced hydration over the past month after refusing to eat and drink, according to Freedom for Immigrants.

Hunger strikes have erupted at immigration jails nationwide as the Trump administration responded to an influx of migrants and asylum seekers at the southern border with policies that prioritize incarceration, with many adults held indefinitely as they wait to see a judge. Last year, immigrant rights groups documented 14 hunger strikes at immigration jails across the country. Strikers typically protest poor conditions and medical treatment and demand their right to freedom and due process. Freedom for Immigrants has identified 1,600 hunger strikers in immigration jails since 2015.

“The reason for me sitting on hunger strike is because I want freedom,” Mr. Singh wrote in a statement and said he began his hunger strike on November 1. “Since January 21, 2019, I have been locked inside four walls. For about a year I have been living my life inside suffocating. In my whole life I have not lived inside four walls like this.” ...
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