ICE officials through a court order forced four detained asylum seekers who have been on a hunger strike to take IV fluids and forced feeding could be next. The men, all from India, began a hunger strike more than three weeks ago on July 9 to protest their prolonged detention when they were held in the Otero County processing center in New Mexico.
“They are all asylum seekers and they are all at one year mark or approaching a year in detention,” said Linda Corchado, an attorney with The Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, who is representing three of the four men.
The men were moved from Otero, a privately run detention facility, to the ICE Processing Center in El Paso where officials began forced hydration last weekend.
“… One of my clients said his arm, vein was in pain and was rejecting the IV. He tells me six persons pinned him down and administered the fluids anyway,” Corchado said.
The other men agreed to drink “a little bit of water” rather than get the forced intravenous fluids, according to volunteers with the Las Cruces-based Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention known as AVID.
“There’s no reason to detain asylum seekers. They’re not threats to the community. They have community ties so they should never have been held this long,” said AVID volunteer Margaret Brown Vega. She and other volunteers regularly visit detainees in Otero and met the Indian men now on a hunger strike.
“These men are not suicidal. They are using the last form of speech and protest to insist on their freedom from a long and cruel episode of detention, said Nathan Craig, another AVID volunteer from Las Cruces.
During their visits to Otero AVID volunteers learned another four men from India began their own hunger strike on July 16 . One of those men has since been deported, according to Brown-Vega. The three remaining hunger strikers were moved from the Otero County Processing Center to the Krome detention center to in Florida on Monday according to a statement from Avid on Friday.
ICE does not comment on individual detainees citing privacy reasons according to spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa but last week she confirmed the hunger strike in the El Paso processing facility. “In general, ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. ICE does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers. ICE explains to our detainees the negative health effects of not eating,” read a statement issued by ICE. Detention standard for hunger strikers in ICE custody state, “Any detainee who does not eat for 72 hours shall be referred to the medical department for evaluation and possible treatment by medical and mental health personnel.”
Several human rights and medical organization including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the American Medical Association have expressed concern about the ethics of force feeding hunger strikers who are competent to decide whether they choose to eat. The forced feeding process, which can be painful, involves pushing a tube up through a person’s nostril and down their throat.
ICE force fed nine hunger strikers from India in the El Paso Processing Center in January but stopped the practice a month later after a Congressional inquiry began. Two of the men were later released from custody on bond while they waited for an immigration court to decide whether to grant them asylum.
The attorney for the three men now on a hunger strike expects the government to seek a court order to begin forced feeding her clients soon.
“ICE does not need to take this stance. There is a whole system in place which provides for their release, ICE check ins and monitoring just to name a few. Instead it is their stance to opt to keep my clients detained, all the while knowing that forced feeding has been condemned by human rights groups and is contrary to ethical standards by medical professionals,” said Corchado.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.