Detainees launch hunger strikes in ICE facilities

Various complaints filed in federal court in Brownsville show that three detainees held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in the Rio Grande Valley have launched hunger strikes since late December.

A case filed on Jan. 14 by the Department of Homeland Security and ICE marks at least the fifth documented hunger strike forcing officials to ask a federal court for permission to forcibly restrain, feed, and hydrate undocumented detainees since August of last year.

At least four of those hunger strikes have taken place inside DHS facilities in Port Isabel. ICE noted that officials are required to respond if detainees have not eaten within a certain period of time. Guidelines posted on the agency’s website stated that “Any detainee who does not eat for 72 hours shall be referred to the medical department for evaluation and possible treatment by medical and mental health personnel.”

Officials are authorized to encourage detainees to accept medical treatment and may refer the detainees to medical treatment before the 72-hour time limit, according to the policy guidelines, which also state that detainees on hunger strikes may be isolated and placed under supervision.

According to the recent case filing, ICE filed a petition for the involuntary administration of hydration and restraints against detainee Naveen Kumar on Jan. 14. The restraining order was granted by U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, Jr. the same day.

In the order, officials wrote that Kumar, 20, is a citizen of India currently detained in the Port Isabel Service Processing Center. He was in removal proceedings and had a pending court date “for the merits of his applications for relief,” according to the document.

The court found that Kumar’s “continuation of his hunger strike and refusal to drink places his life in imminent danger,” but did not elaborate on the length of the hunger strike, Kumar’s refusal to drink, or the basis for his decision to strike.

In a separate case, a motion to permit involuntary feedings and administration of hydration was filed and granted on Dec. 31, 2019 against detainee Humaun Kobir.

Each of the three motions and orders filed in Kobir’s case remain under seal. U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera, Jr. is listed as the presiding judge in the court records.

A third case filed on Dec. 26, 2019 against detainee Mohan Lal, was detailed in a status report filed on Jan. 16. Lal is a 27-year-old citizen of India who entered the United States without inspection near San Ysidro, California, and was detained by ICE at the Port Isabel Detention Center.

Lal’s application for asylum, withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture was denied on Oct. 15. An immigration judge ordered him removed to India, prompting a hunger strike that began on Nov. 22, officials wrote.

On Dec. 23, Lal began to refuse sufficient liquids necessary to sustain his life, according to the document. Officials were granted a temporary restraining order on Dec. 27. The order expired on Jan. 9 but was not extended.

Lal “began to voluntarily drink fluids and ‘Boost’ and/or Pedialyte,” officials wrote in the update. “However, officials also advise that they prefer that this case not yet be closed as the situation is still unpredictable.”

ICE officials operating in the Port Isabel Detention Center were granted two other requests for temporary restraining orders used to forcibly hydrate detainees from India and Bangladesh beginning on Aug. 26, 2019.

The first petition, filed Aug. 26 in the case of Akram Hossain, stated that the court found Hossain’s potential death “not only would thwart ICE’s ability to care for an individual in its custody, but would pose a serious threat to the security and good order of the facility in which ICE currently maintains [Hossain].”

Hossain is a citizen of Bangladesh who was in removal proceedings after an immigration judge denied his request for asylum. The Board of Immigration Appeals also dismissed his case, prompting the ensuing hunger strike.

Documents in Hossain’s case have remained under seal. A status report was entered into his case file on Nov. 21 and is inaccessible to the public.

Mohit Rana, a native and citizen of India, entered the United States near Calexico, California, and was in custody at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos in mid-November of last year, according to court documents.

Rana began a hunger strike on Oct. 18, 2019 and allegedly consumed minimal amounts of liquid before a federal court granted officials a temporary restraining order to hydrate him via IV or feeding tube.

In the four days leading up to the request for a restraining order, his water intake was only a fraction of the 8 cups recommended daily, according to the case filing.

A sealed status report was filed in Rana’s case by ICE on Nov. 26. A separate order signed by Rodriguez dismissed the case on Dec. 11, stating that Rana ended his hunger strike on Dec. 3 and was no longer in the agency’s custody.

“ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. ICE does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers. ICE explains the negative health effects of not eating to our detainees. For their health and safety, ICE closely monitors the food and water intake of those detainees identified as being on a hunger strike,” read a statement provided by ICE Spokeswoman Nina Pruneda.