Immigration

New ACLU Report Reveals Dozens Of Hunger Strikes, Retaliation At Texas ICE Facilities

There were at least 46 hunger strikes — by individuals and groups — at Texas ICE facilities between 2013 and 2017, according to ACLU data shared with Houston Public Media. 

Outside the Montgomery Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Conroe, Texas, where a detainee was force fed last year.

A new nationwide report found a pattern of hunger strikes and, in several cases, retaliation against detained strikers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in Texas and other states.

The report, from the ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights, revealed that staff at ICE facilities have used forced feeding, detainee transfers, deportation and isolation to end hunger strikes.

The incidents took place between September 2013 and September 2017, according to thousands of pages of information obtained by the ACLU through Freedom Of Information Act Requests.

According to ACLU data shared with Houston Public Media, 39 individuals and six groups went on hunger strikes in Texas detention centers during that five-year period. ICE officials obtained court orders to force feed, or provide other involuntary medical procedures six different times in Texas.

“You’re not supposed to, if you’re following medical ethics, to force feed and conduct any forced medical procedures and forced hydration on anybody,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, Physicians for Human Rights senior medical advisor.

As she reviewed the thousands of pages of ICE documents, “the coercion was really something that stood out,” Mishori said.

There’s a consensus among international medical professionals and associations against participating in involuntary or nonconsensual treatment, especially in the context of a hunger strike, Mishori added. Instead, Mishori said the detention center staff should consider the detainee’s demands, or at the very least offer them water and not retaliate.

She added that people can survive for more than a month without eating solid food as long as they have access to water.

Among the dozens of incidents, the report outlined one case in which 43 Bangladeshi detainees and one Afghan detainee were striking at an El Paso facility. ICE removed the Afghan detainee because officials identified him as the “instigator” and transferred him to “segregation pending disciplinary panel review”, according to the report.

In two separate Houston cases detailed in the report, people with a history of mental illness were put into isolation after they had refused to eat several meals.

The report also detailed cases of forced feeding and forced hydration, including one case in Alabama in which a hunger striker was taken to a hospital, where a catheter was forced through his urinary tract.

“Force feeding involves sticking a tube up somebody's nose and down to their stomach,” Rashit said. “If the person is not cooperative and it’s done non-consensually it can be very painful and often times you have to tie somebody to a bed or a medical examination table to do that.”

ACLU attorney Eunice Cho, who authored the report, said that if people are turning to hunger strikes in the first place it’s because they feel they have no other options.

“People (are) in very desperate situations, where the immigration adjudication system conditions in detention are growing so dire that people see no other alternative than to begin a hunger strike,” Cho said.

She added that it’s their right to do so.

“Hunger striking is a protected form of free speech under the First Amendment and people in detention retain those First Amendment rights.” Cho said. “The Constitution doesn't stop at the detention door.”

In a written statement, ICE officials said they don’t retaliate in any way against hunger strikers and that “for their health and safety, ICE carefully monitors the food and water intake of those detainees identified as being on a hunger strike. Additionally, ICE explains the negative health effects of not eating to its detainees, and they are under close medical observation.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston-area facilities have been plagued by high infection rates, detainee deaths, crowded facilities, and poor medical conditions and protocols. And despite the abundance of COVID-19 vaccines, relatively few have been administered in ICE detention centers.

Local physicians have called on ICE to address health concerns at facilities like the Joe Corley ICE detention center in Conroe. One of those physicians — Project Lifeline health director Dr. Dona Murphey — said those concerns have gone unaddressed.

Asked about the ACLU report’s findings, Murphey said she was “unsurprised.”

“The medical neglect and abuse are profound, concealed, and structurally entrenched,” Murphey said.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required

Share