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ICE Force-feeding Immigrant Detainees on Hunger Strike

Force-feeding is Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading

Screenshot from a 2013 video of Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) volunteering to undergo the standard operating procedures for force-feeding of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  © 2013 The Guardian/YouTube

ICE officials are force-feeding six immigrant detainees who are on hunger strike in Texas, according to an investigation published by the Associated Press.

The AP reported indications that nearly 30 men – mostly from India and Cuba – in the El Paso Processing Center are refusing food to protest prolonged detentions, as well as “rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials confirmed that 11 men are on hunger strike in El Paso and another four elsewhere in the United States. A federal judge authorized the force-feeding of six in mid-January, according to the AP.

Force-feeding – which involves pushing a feeding tube down a patient’s nose – can be very painful and is inherently cruel, inhuman, and degrading. Medical ethics and human rights norms generally prohibit the force feeding of detainees who are competent and capable of rational judgment as to the consequences of refusing food. A relative of two men being force-fed with nasal tubes by ICE told the AP the men are having persistent nose bleeds and vomiting several times a day.

Because it was used at Guantanamo, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) volunteered to undergo the standard operating procedures for force-feeding of detainees there. The 2013 video is so excruciating that I’ve never managed to watch it all.

Last fall, my colleague Grace Meng visited Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington to interview immigrant detainees on hunger strike to protest the bewildering and unjust US asylum system, as well as poor medical care in detention. In November, a Washington state hunger striker died by suicide.

Hunger striking is a desperate expressive act. In immigration detention, it can be a response to the irrationality of prolonged and needless detention. ICE should immediately stop the cruel, inhuman, and degrading process of force-feeding any detainees who have made a rational decision to stop eating as a form of protest.  

Congressional representatives – especially those now tasked with making a deal to keep the government open – should take note of the abysmal conditions in immigration detention by slashing, not increasing, funding for the abusive US immigration enforcement system unless and until it undergoes deep, systemic reforms.

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