Forced hydration

A U.S. Border Patrol agent monitors a group of apprehended men from India who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on July 16, 2018 in San Diego, California. SALDEF’s Indian American spokeswoman Gujari Singh told India-West: “We have been telling detention centers about these issues for a long time, but we’re not seeing any change. People are still not being humanely treated.” (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun force-hydrating four Indian asylum seekers at its El Paso, Texas detention center, using intravenous drips.

Immigration advocates say the practice is in violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, which disallows cruel and unusual punishment. The Sikh American Legal Defense Fund, along with the Sikh Coalition, South Asian Americans Leading Together, Advocate Visitors With Immigrants in Detention, and Detention Watch, are jointly circulating a petition in Congress to stop the practice of intravenous forced hydration, SALDEF spokeswoman Gujari Singh told India-West.

“We have been telling detention centers about these issues for a long time, but we’re not seeing any change. People are still not being humanely treated,” said the Indian American activist.

The four men, all from Northern India, began their hunger strike at the Otero, New Mexico ICE processing center on July 9, and were transferred to the El Paso facility 10 days later. All of the men have been in ICE custody for at least a year; they are protesting their long detentions, as well as denials of bond hearings, which would allow them to be released to relatives until their asylum cases have concluded.

Linda Corchado, managing attorney at Las Americas Immigration Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas, is representing three of the four Indians on the hunger strike. “My clients feel that the detention system has not been fair, and they have met with judges who have an inherent bias against asylum cases from India,” Corchado told India-West.

Corchado would not identify the religious affiliations of her clients, but did say that they were political activists in India who had faced persecution by members of the opposite party. She said that one of her clients told her that his father was murdered in India by members from an opposing political party. His sister was burned in an acid attack.

“They are fighting for their freedom. And they are willing to die in ICE custody,” said Corchado, when asked what it would take for the protesters to end their hunger strike. “They have rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. My desire is to ensure that their voices are heard, but I fear they are wasting away,” she said.

Margaret Brown Vega, also on the ground at El Paso and Otero as a volunteer for Advocate Visitors With Immigrants in Detention, told India-West that it is very difficult for South Asian asylum seekers to get bond hearings. If they do manage to get one, they are almost always denied, as they are deemed flight risks. Asylum seekers from India and elsewhere in South Asia thus endure longer periods of detention, she said, noting that she has met asylees who have been in custody for more than two years.

There is no endpoint to how long a person can be held in ICE detention, explained Brown Vega.

After a detainee misses nine meals, ICE initiates its “hunger strike” protocol, monitoring blood pressure, ammonia in urine, and heart rates, among other factors.

Once certain indicators are reached — including a significant loss in body weight — ICE can then seek a court order for involuntary medical procedures, Nathan Craig, who is also on the ground at El Paso and Otero as a volunteer for Advocate Visitors With Immigrants in Detention, told India-West.

The detainees are given two forced intravenous drips per day, a difficult and painful procedure. Craig said that on July 28, one of the hunger strikers asked to see the court order before allowing medical personnel to administer the drip.

ICE did not allow the detainee to see the court order, after which he did not consent to the drip. The agency then called in a “Use of Force” team: six men held the hunger striker down as medical personnel inserted a needle into his veins. “It is a clear violation of the 8th amendment, which guards against cruel or unusual punishment,” stated Craig.

Corchado affirmed that a “Use of Force” team had been employed to forcibly hydrate one of her clients.

ICE could escalate its procedures by next force-feeding the men through nasal gastric tubes, as it did in January with nine hunger strikers at El Paso. The procedure is painful and causes consistent nose bleeds. (See India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2IuX64p)

Two of the January hunger strikers — both Sikhs — were released in April, almost three months after they began their protest.

The El Paso hunger strikers have been threatened with force feedings, said Craig.

Corchado told India-West: “Much is being said about deterrence. But deterrence means nothing to people who fear for their lives, and who have an overwhelming desire to live in democracy.”

She castigated ICE for “revictimizing the most vulnerable population on earth. It is a stain on our conscience.”

“All ten ICE detainees have missed at least nine consecutive meals, triggering ICE hunger-strike protocols,” ICE spokesman Timothy Oberle told The Associated Press in a statement. “The ICE Health Services Corps is medically monitoring the detainees’ health and regularly updating ICE of their medical status. Efforts are being taken to protect the detainees’ health and privacy,” he said.

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