Nearly 50 Democratic leaders call for government watchdog investigation into ICE force-feeding
Nearly 50 House Democrats are calling on a top government watchdog to investigate the force-feeding of immigrant detainees who have been on hunger strikes in protest of abusive conditions and prolonged imprisonment. “Rather than addressing those complaints,” the members write to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “is force-feeding detainees and reportedly taking other punitive measures, including solitary confinement.”
Detainees at a Texas facility began the strike on Dec. 30. When they stopped eating for two weeks, a federal judge allowed the force-feeding, in a painful and torturous process that led some men vomiting and bloodied. “On Thursday, all force-feeding at the detention center near the El Paso airport abruptly stopped after a U.S. district judge said the government had to stop involuntarily feeding two of the detained immigrants,” CBS News reports.
But not before the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the United States could be violating a torture agreement by force-feeding, as noted in the letter from the legislators. “Responding with force-feeding, which the United Nations Human Rights Commission has called a cruel and inhumane practice that may violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture, is appalling and casts a pall over our government’s commitment to basic human rights.”
Some detainees at the El Paso facility are able to pay bond but have remained jailed for as long as 18 months. A number of others are Sikh asylum-seekers who fear for their lives if they are deported back to India, which a number of ICE officers have threatened to do, the AP reported. Rep. Veronica Escobar, who spearheaded the letter with Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, was the first federal legislator to rush to the facility after initial reports of the forced-feeding.
“We continue to have serious concerns about ICE immigration detention standards, as well as the role that outsourcing to private prison companies plays in depressing these standards,” the letter, which includes not one single Republican signature, continues. “We implore you to exercise your oversight responsibilities to make improving conditions at immigration detention facilities a top priority for ICE and ensure the humane treatment of detainees in federal custody.”