Last week news broke of a hunger strike at a privately run for-profit immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas. The original report indicated 27 strikers but that estimate has risen to 500 as, “almost everyone is on hunger strike.”
Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has denied those reports telling RH Reality Check, “There was never anybody not eating, that is false information.” That has broadly been ICE’s response to claims of hunger strikes across the country:
“ICE denied finding any evidence of a hunger strike at the Karnes family immigration facility.”
“More than 200 immigrant detainees launched a hunger strike at Eloy Detention Center Saturday, an Arizona human rights organization said — but ICE disputed the account.”
“ICE officials deny that the hunger strike is happening.”
Last year ICE acknowledged a massive 750 person hunger strike in Washington state saying that, “ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference.”
But back in Texas, 3 women are claiming that ICE has retaliated against them for organizing the current hunger strike. Two have been relocated to other detention centers in Texas. The other woman said she was put in what solitary confinement in a cold isolated room intended for medical treatment. She wrote, “They have separated me from my friends they have me in a very cold room and alone they follow me as if I had committed a crime I feel like they are treating me like a criminal it’s an injustice someone behind me like a shadow following me since yesterday on Saturday 10/31/15 at 3 in the afternoon they have me in punishment they are very cruel and evil.”
Grassroots Leadership, an activist group that opposes the private prison industry, has been monitoring the situation. They released letters from women who are on hunger strike, demanding better treatment and ultimately to be released.
According to their press release:
“Many have come for the second time and have been detained for many months without bond. Eighteen women wrote letters exposing the injustice they have experienced during their detention including a dysfunctional legal system, verbal abuse, rancid food, and inadequate medical care. These conditions reveal the moral bankruptcy of detention and why the women have decided to risk a hunger strike to demand their freedom.”
Many of the women and children being detained are from Central America and are seeking political and religious asylum. On Monday, a judge ruled that these facilities would have to seek a special license from the state to continue to detain children. Christina Parker with Grassroots Leadership responded by saying that, “trying to get a child care license slapped on these facilities in this sort of run around way just speaks to the fact that they’re trying every trick in the book to keep them open.” Ultimately it will be a federal judge that will decide the fate of the detainees.
In the meantime, the immigrants rights group Workers’ Defense Project is organizing a 3 day pilgrimage with immigrant families from the detention center to the Texas Governor’s mansion. Gov. Abbott has been saber rattling on immigration, recently calling for a ban on “sanctuary cities.” The pilgrimage will conclude on Nov. 21st, the one year anniversary of President Obama’s executive action on immigration expanding DAPA and DACA.