Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley Dec. 15 met with two Bangladeshi asylum seekers who were recently released from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Center in El Paso, Texas, after embarking on a hunger strike on Thanksgiving Day.
The former Maryland governor met with Abdullah Jobayer and Mohammed Aminul Islam, who told O’Malley they would face great danger and possibly death if they are deported back to Bangladesh. Jobayer and Islam belong to the Bangladesh National Party. A recent memo from the Department of Homeland Security identifies the BNP as an undesignated “Tier III” terrorist organization. DHS has determined that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities.
As O’Malley met with Jobayer and Islam, ICE deported one of the key hunger strike leaders, Tarek Ahmed, back to Bangladesh.
More than 150 ICE detainees are currently on hunger strikes at ICE facilities across the nation. (In related news, a judge Dec. 21 authorized the force-feeding of a group of immigration detainees in Florida who have been on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks.)
All of the men on hunger strike were approved for their credible fear findings, a preliminary step in the asylum review process. ICE established policies in 2010 stating that asylum seekers who pass their credible fear interview should be automatically considered for parole from detention. Nevertheless, some of the hunger strikers have been held in immigration detention for up to two years.
After hearing about the conditions at ICE detention centers – many of which are privately operated or run by cash-strapped counties – O’Malley declared: “Instead of giving them due process, we’re just rolling out more barbed wire.”
"Let us not only end family detention, but all immigrant detention unless there is a grave risk to our national security. These men were denied due process in the growing detention camps we have across the country,” O’Malley said.
After the meeting, Islam said: “The candidates who say they support us should use their position to pressure ICE to halt deportations and release asylum seekers, or visit the hunger strikers to see what is really happening. Some of us will be deported and dead by the time the candidates act on their promises.”
A day earlier, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s speech at the National Immigrant Integration Conference in New York was interrupted by several supporters of detainees who launched the hunger strike with signs asking, “Do You Stand With Us?” and “People Are Starving for their Freedom.” In recent weeks, the candidate has come under fire for not speaking directly to the question of the strikers’ indefinite detention. Last week, families of detainees protested outside her Brooklyn, New York, headquarters, calling on her to respond to the fast.
Clinton’s Latino outreach director, Lorella Praeli, met with protesters last week to voice support for their cause.
Fahd Ahmed, director of DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, said in a statement: “Future promises don’t speak to the current crises. Allies respond to cries for help and denounce abuse when it’s exposed and so far Clinton has done neither.”
“We want her and every official to do their part to see to the end of torture in detention, the freedom of the hunger strikers, and the halt of their deportations,” said Ahmed.
Arturo Carmona, the Latino outreach director for Bernie Sanders – also a Democratic presidential candidate – said the senator from Vermont supports the hunger strikers.
“Sen. Sanders’ immigration platform promotes alternatives to detention, closes private prisons and would allow thousands of non-violent immigrant detainees to reunite with their families as they wait for their day in court,” said Carmona in a statement.
A federal judge recently authorized U.S. immigration authorities to perform involuntary blood draws and other medical procedures on at least ten male detainees from Bangladesh who began fasting on Dec. 2 at the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Florida, the Associated Press reported.
Jennifer Kay of the Associated Press added Dec. 21:
A federal judge Dec. 21 authorized the force-feeding of a group of immigration detainees in Florida who have been on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks.
All 10 men who began the hunger strike Dec. 2 at the Krome Service Processing Center are from Bangladesh. As of Dec. 21, seven still refused to eat, and they entered U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga's courtroom in wheelchairs.
Altonaga previously granted a petition from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security permitting involuntary blood draws and other medical procedures to monitor the detainees' health.
On Dec. 21, the judge authorized Krome medical staff to restrain and force-feed the detainees through nasal-gastric tubes if it becomes necessary to save their lives.
The detainees have other ways of protesting their ongoing detention, Altonaga said.
"They are not likely to survive without compelled feeding," she said.
Speaking through an interpreter, Abdul Awal, 21, asked how long they might be subjected to the involuntary feedings.
"How long are they going to force-feed us? We are willing to die," he said.
Krome's staff doctor, Dalian Caraballo, testified that the men are not in any immediate danger, but if they persist with the hunger strike, they risk severe and permanent health complications.
Each of the seven men who have continued the hunger strike has lost up to 15 percent of their body weight since Dec. 2, Caraballo said.
The administration of liquid nutritional supplements through nasal-gastric tubes would be more comfortable for the men than transferring them to a hospital to feed them intravenously, she said.
No attorney spoke for the detainees. Altonaga allowed them to question Caraballo and ICE Assistant Field Officer Joel Mikelson directly, but she did not permit them to complain about their immigration cases or their detention as she is not an immigration judge.
Awal said conditions in Bangladesh forced him and the other detainees to seek opportunities in the U.S., and they risk death if they are deported.
"We would rather die here," Awal said.
All the detainees were arrested in Hidalgo, Texas, in 2014 and 2015 while attempting to enter the U.S.