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US Officials Force-feed Immigration Detainees on Hunger Strike

FILE - Illegal immigrants from Mexico wait in a holding area in El Paso, Texas, May 1, 2008.
FILE - Illegal immigrants from Mexico wait in a holding area in El Paso, Texas, May 1, 2008.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has confirmed it has resorted to force-feeding some detainees in custody for illegal immigration, after those detainees staged hunger strikes to demand their release.

ICE authorities confirmed on Thursday that at least six immigrant detainees have been force-fed through nasal tubes and nine others have been refusing food. The detainees are located in centers in El Paso, Texas; Miami, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; and San Diego and San Francisco, California.

Detainee rights activists working with the hunger strikers in Texas say the majority of the hunger strikers are ethnic Indians who entered the United States over the southern border and were detained more than six months ago. The strikers are demanding release on bond, after spending months behind bars.

A lawyer for two of the Texas detainees, Ruby Kaur, told National Public Radio that the detainees began hunger strikes at the beginning of this year to call attention to what they say are inhumane conditions, verbal threats, and lack of information about their cases.

She also said her clients face a language barrier, as they do not speak English and have not been provided a translator who can speak their language, which is Punjabi.

She said the force-feeding process has also been hard on the detainees, causing them bleeding in nasal passages and vomiting.

U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas tweeted Thursday that she had visited an El Paso ICE detention facility and met with the detainees who have been force-fed. She called the situation "unacceptable" and said the strikers have been detained for 15 to 18 months.

Escobar called for increased oversight and accountability to ensure that detainees are treated "with dignity and respect."

Federal law says inmates may be force-fed by court order if they refuse food for 72 hours or nine consecutive meals.

ICE Health Services Corps said this week in a statement that it is medically monitoring the detainee's health and regularly updating their medical status.

Another activist, Christina Fialho of Freedom for Immigrants, told NPR that she was aware of about 30 detainees staging hunger strikes. While most are Indian, she said Cubans and Hondurans are also among those refusing food.

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