Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate measures were taken during the last month of 2015 to call attention to the inhumane treatment that’s ongoing in our detention of civil immigration detainees.
In early December, a group of ten men from Bangladesh started a hunger strike in protest of their detention at the Krome Service Processing Center. The men, many fleeing violence in Bangladesh, were originally detained in Hidalgo, Texas, shortly after requesting political asylum when they crossed into the country from Mexico. Most of the men have been in detention for over a year without being granted parole by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while fighting their asylum cases. And this is not a first. Over the last few months there’s been a wave of hunger strikes in various immigration detention facilities in South Florida and across the country.
After an earlier hunger strike by other asylum-seekers, the ACLU of Florida filed a complaint with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties regarding ICE’s violation of its own policies in denying parole to asylum-seekers who had a positive determination of a credible fear of persecution in their home countries. Some of the Bangladeshi detainees were waiting to have their asylum cases heard, while others had been denied asylum and ordered removed. However, many of them have refused to sign travel documents to return to Bangladesh because they fear certain death there, and thus face indefinite detention in the U.S.
On December 21, as the hunger strike entered its third week, ICE sought and was granted an emergency court order from a federal judge to authorize force-feeding of the detainees through a nasogastric tube while the detainees were in restraints if it became necessary to save their lives or prevent organ failure. This process, which is incredibly invasive and painful, involves insertion of a tube into the detainee’s nose, snaking it down to the stomach, and forcing a liquid nutritional supplement down the tube.
Not only is the force-feeding process of competent individuals inherently cruel, inhuman, and degrading, according to national and international medical authorities—including the World Medical Association (the preeminent international organization in the field of medical ethics and practice), the American Medical Association (which is a member of the WMA), and the International Committee of the Red Cross — “Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force, or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment.”
With the looming threat of being force-fed, the detainees ended their hunger strike on December 23. Mahmudul Hasan, one of the hunger-strikers said, “We came here to escape violence and danger in our country. But it seems like this place is like Guantanamo. ICE would rather force feed hunger strikers than listen to our basic demands for freedom.”
Local advocacy groups organized a protest outside of the Krome detention center to protest ICE’s coercive tactics to prevent the detainees from exercising their First Amendment rights. And faith leaders from diverse congregations in South Florida published a letter condemning the treatment of the striking detainees, saying, “While it may be difficult for many of us to identify with the actions taken by these desperate men, we should respect their decision and not submit them to further violence and degradation. As of Wednesday evening, the fearful men did break their fast due to the threat of force-feeding; in other words, political asylum seekers fleeing violence were threatened with violence in order to induce them to eat.”
*To be clear, because force-feeding of hunger-strikers is cruel, inhuman, and degrading, we oppose it at Guantánamo, too.