ICE detainees launch hunger strike after UN warns agency against force-feeding inmates

The hunger strike is in protest of the federal agency's 'inhumane conditions' towards detainees

Former ICE director Tom Homan says he'd 'rather put an illegal alien in jail for DUI than white collar bank fraud'

Detainees held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement have launched a hunger strike in protest of the federal agency’s alleged abuses and inhumane conditions, according to multiple civil rights groups.

Rhode Island-based community groups Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance and the Fighting Against Natural Gas Collective say they've been in contact with about 70 detainees at the Suffolk County House of Correction who are participating in a hunger strike that began Friday.

The detainees sent jail officials a list of their grievances 10 February, the organisations reported.

The organisations say the detainees are protesting abuse by jail officials and “inhumane conditions” such as bad food and broken bathroom fixtures. They also challenge the jail's authority to detain people on behalf of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Spokespersons for the jail and ICE did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on Sunday.

The hunger strike arrives shortly after the government suddenly stopped force-feeding a group of men on a hunger strike inside an El Paso, Texas, immigration detention centre, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

The dramatic reversal came Thursday as public pressure was mounting on ICE to halt the practice, which involves feeding detainees through nasal tubes against their will. Last week, the United Nations human rights office said the force-feeding of Indian hunger strikers at the facility could violate the UN Convention Against Torture.

Earlier this week, a US district judge said the government had to stop force-feeding two of the detained Indian immigrants, but warned that if their health started to decline he would consider ordering force-feeding again, their attorney said. On Thursday, all force-feeding at the detention centre near the El Paso airport had stopped, according to ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa.

“This is a win for us,” said Louis Lopez, who is representing Malkeet Singh and Jasvir Singh, two detainees who are Punjabi Sikhs in their early 20s. “They have a First Amendment right to protest.”

Detained immigrants have sporadically staged hunger strikes around the country for years, protesting conditions they face while seeking asylum. ICE said Thursday there were a total of 12 detainees refusing food, nine from India, three from Cuba. Force-feeding, which began under court order earlier this year, had not previously been reported, and advocates involved said they weren’t aware it had happened before.

In a federal courtroom Wednesday in El Paso, US District Judge David Guaderrama heard from Dr Michelle Iglesias about how men detained in the El Paso facility are restrained and have feeding tubes pushed through their noses. The judge asked whether they had some other way they could protest, and sought details about the Singhs’ physical condition.

“What are the physiological and psychological effects of allowing a hunger strike to continue unabated by force-feeding?” he asked.

In addition to Guaderrama, U.S. District Judges David Briones, Philip R. Martinez and Frank Montalvo at the El Paso courthouse have issued orders for force-feeding in recent weeks.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said last week the office views force-feeding as potential “ill treatment” that would go against the convention, ratified by the United States in 1994.

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The statement by the Geneva-based office echoed concerns raised by 14 Democratic lawmakers who have asked ICE for more information.

Additional reporting by AP.

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