Just before the holiday season, thousands of detainees at immigrant detention centers across the country are ramping up hunger strikes, some of them ongoing since October, with no end in sight. Media reports of these protests are extremely confusing – ICE reports that only 109 people are still participating in strikes, while community organizing groups report that up to 600 people are still variously participating. Here are the basics of what we know, what the conflicts in reporting are, and where these protests are taking place:
- Don Hutto (TX)
Strikes that began in at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center at the end of October have garnered a fair amount of media attention, especially as connected to larger conversations about unfair policing and detention practices targeting people of Color in the U.S. The original strikes called for immediate release, reasonable medical care, and just detention practices. Mother Jones reports:
In a handwritten letter posted on the website of Grassroots Leadership, one of the strikers wrote, “I can’t take any more of this punishment. I’m dying of desperation from this injustice, from this cruelty.”
Some of the original strikers, just under Central American 30 women, were transferred out of Hutto in retaliation for striking; at least one was deported, but others have reportedly been released from detention. Of the remaining strikers housed at Hutto (now numbering around 500), some have begun eating more regularly for health reasons, but may continue refusing food on a rotating basis to express solidarity.
Local media has been denied access to the facility, so facts remain fairly unclear with regards to these strikers.
With help from the DRUM South Asian Organizing Center, nearly 150 people across at least 6 detention centers, including El Paso and LaSalle, have maintained hunger strikers since Thanksgiving. Most strikers are from South Asian and African countries (a large contingent of which comes from Bangladesh). All of the strikers have been detained for a minimum of 6 months and undergone “credible fear” interviewing, establishing reasonable fear from persecution in applicants’ home countries, and the first step in eligibility for asylum. Mother Jones notes that Bangladeshi protesters have special considerations in their cases creating unfairly extended detention periods:
The reason why most of the strikers are from Bangladesh, he adds, is because a significant number of Bangladeshi asylum seekers have lost their cases due to ties with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, an opposition political party that some judges within the US Department of Homeland Security consider to be a terrorist organization—a categorization that immigrant advocacy groups deny. “They know they face imminent violence if they’re sent home,” Ahmed says. “Essentially they’re saying, ‘If you send us back we’re going to die, so we’d rather die by hunger strike here.'”
Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley met with a group of strikers at El Paso, calling themselves the #ElPaso54
Otay Mesa and Adelanto (CA)
Strikes at Adelanto have started and ended at least twice in November, citing many of the same issues about case processing speeds, poor health and living conditions, and abuse in detainment that other strikers have cited. The first set of strikes, beginning in early November, ended after 11 days following the collapse of a striker, but a second set began shortly thereafter and remain in process. Similar strikes occurred throughout November at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, but ICE reports that the 14 participating strikers began accepting food again on Dec. 4.
As of Dec 2, a reported 10 men from Bangladesh have refused meals citing discontent with ICE conditions and the processing speed of cases. ICE filed a petition with the court to order strikers to submit to forced medical monitoring, and was approved late last week. Some of the strikers were detained as far back as 2014 and remain in detention today.