National Immigration Forum

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Enough! Detainees on hunger strike call for new course on immigration detention

July 31, 2009 - Posted by Mario Moreno


More news today about the deplorable and un-American state of our immigration detention system. On the day that the Department of Homeland Security decided to reject —after a two and a half years delay — a federal court petition calling for legally enforceable detention standards, detainees in a detention center in Basile, Louisiana declared a hunger strike to protest substandard conditions.  The Associated Press describes the situation:


"It's not fit for a human being," read a comment attributed to Fausto Gonzalez, according to the report a detainee from the Dominican Republic.


"There are rats, mosquitoes, flies, and spiders inside the cell and inside the dorm. The ventilation is terrible," he said. "We have tried to complain about all of these problems, and we haven't gotten anywhere. They tell us, 'It's a jail. This is how it is.'"

Immigrant detainees hunger strike over conditions, July 31, 2009


Although the ICE field director acknowledges that immigration detainees should be held in administrative - not punitive - custody given that immigration law violations are civil and not criminal infractions; we hear a pretty different picture from the immigrant detainees who compiled their accounts on the egregious conditions and abuses in the detention center in a report published by the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice:



Even though I was showing many symptoms, no one offered me any medical attention […] I was so sick that I was delirious, vomiting, had no appetite, a strong head ache, fever, I was very cold, and I had a cold sweat. In my cell there are more than forty people who are sick. As far as I know, no one in my cell has had a blood test or any lab testing done.

Edwin Dubon Gonzalez, Detainee, human rights monitor, hunger striker in Basile, Louisiana immigration detention center


I am preparing to die here in detention. I hope my body will provide testimony that the system needs to change.

—Juan Marin Corona, Detainee, human rights monitor, hunger striker in Basile, Louisiana immigration detention center

For about three weeks in May, the jail ran out of soap and toothpaste — except in the commissary. If you did not have money you had to just bathe with water and no soap.


These unsanitary conditions affect our mental and physical health. I developed a rash on my groin because of the lack of soap. When one person gets sick – a fever or cough – it spreads very quickly. We are not the strong, healthy men we were when we arrived.

Edgar Bojorge Alcantara, detainee, human rights monitor, hunger striker in Basile, Louisiana immigration detention center


Detention conditions under the Obama Administration, New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, July 29, 2009


This is not the America that our forefathers envisioned, a land of liberty and justice, a bright beacon of hope for the rest of the world. Our country shouldn’t treat people this way. Detainees, including children, are often subjected to arbitrary punishment, including neglect of basic medical and hygienic needs and lack of due process.


Immigration raids have torn apart families, disrupted businesses, increased racial profiling and have done little to solve our immigration crisis.  That’s why the immigrant rights community is telling the Obama Administration Enough is enough! We need leadership that will put an end to these abuses and fix our deteriorating immigration system. 


Please join us in our call to DHS Secretary Napolitano to uphold President Obama’s promise of a new day of immigration policy for America.


Sign this petition to the Department of Homeland Security at:

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