7/31/09 Feet In 2 Worlds – Immigrant Detainees on Hunger Strike After White House Rejects Change to Detention Standards/J

July 31, 2009
Immigrant Detainees on Hunger Strike After White House Rejects Change to Detention Standards
by Diego Graglia, Feet In 2 Worlds

Immigrants in a Louisiana detention center began a hunger strike this week to protest the dismal conditions in which they say they are being held.

The detainees’ decision comes in the same week that two new reports –by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC)– showed that the U.S. government continues to violate the rights of detained immigrants –held for breaking civil, not criminal, laws.

The hunger strike is also a response to the Obama administration’s refusal to change the system for inspecting  immigration detention centers that was created during the Bush era and for enforcing minimum standards the government set in 2000. This decision, according to The New York Times,“disappointed and angered immigration advocacy organizations around the country.”

Immigrants at the detention center in Basile, Louisiana, decided to start the protest after reporting “egregious violations to jail staff, immigration officials and advocates,” said the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, which is supporting them. According to About.com’s immigration specialist Jennifer McFadyen, this is the fifth hunger strike in four weeks at the jail.

“On the day that the Obama administration decided to reject a federal court petition calling for legally enforceable detention standards, detainees in Basile, Louisiana, declared a hunger strike, protesting inhumane conditions,” the group said on its website.

The Workers’ Center contributed to the report issued earlier this week by the NILC, which denounced “substantial and pervasive violations of the government’s own minimum standards for conditions at facilities holding detained immigrants.”

According to the group, “over 100 immigrant detainees have acted as human rights monitors in the privately-run” detention center in Basile. The conditions they described, the center said, fall “below ICE’s (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) own standards — and all standards of human decency.”

The report can be downloaded here. It contains testimony including that of Edwin Dubon González, who said he received no medical attention although he was “delirious, vomiting, had no appetite, a strong headache, fever…”

Joaquín López Pena said he was put in solitary confinement for “planning a hunger strike (…) When my legal representatives came to see me on Thursday no one notified me and they told them that I had refused to meet with them.”

Edgar Alcántara said:
We complained about conditions for a long time.  After the first hunger strike, they turned down the air conditioning for the first time in our dormitory.  They also gave twenty pairs of boxers to over seventy detainees in the dormitory.  Since our second hunger strike and complaints, they are giving us more soap weekly. 

Juan Martín Corona said:
I am preparing to die here in detention.  I hope my body will provide testimony that the system needs to change. 

Sixty detainees are staging three-day hunger strikes on a rotating basis, Saket Soni, executive director of the Workers’ Center, told The Associated Press.
They would strike for longer periods, Soni said, but the detainees feared inadequate medical care and placement of strikers in solitary confinement could lead to serious illnesses.  [Immigrant detainees strike over conditions – The A.P.] 


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