ICE: Hunger strike brought on by ‘coercion’ from outside parties, detainee threats

Migrant Centers

Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, Calif. (Courtesy GEO)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials allege that detainees are being coerced into refusing meals inside a California detention facility.

Jonathan Moor, an ICE spokesman, issued a statement Friday, saying the agency learned of potential coercion, both internal and external, at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, Calif.

First, an “anonymous source” declared to staff that an attorney instructed a detainee to initiate a hunger strike. Then, ICE encountered correspondence that details an instance in which detainees threatened to physically harm at least one fellow detainee if they did not participate in a hunger strike. And in discussions with ICE staff, detainees said other outside sources added funds to the commissary accounts of select detainees who coerced detainees to participate in hunger strikes.

ICE detected inconsistencies with the declared purpose of the hunger strikes, Moor’s statement said. Detainees said they were protesting the repetitive cycle of the menu, while external groups said they were concerned with ICE’s response to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Border Report on Monday morning reached out to Moor, asking whether detainees who threaten others face any legal ramifications and if outside sources face any backlash for coercing federal detainees. When Border Report receives a response, this article will be updated.

Inside the detention center, ICE has said it fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion and that hunger strikers will not face retaliation. However, the agency does explain the negative health effects of not eating, and it will place hunger strikers under close medical observation.

ICE considers nine the number of consecutively missed meals as the benchmark for determining whether a detainee is on a hunger strike and whether to place them in a medical facility to have their weight loss and food and water intake monitored.

Staff at the Mesa Verde facility identified 77 detainees who on June 4 did not eat dinner; 78 who did not attend breakfast the following day; and 83 who did not attend lunch, the statement said. Of those, 21 detainees made hunger-strike claims, but the rest said they just were not interested in eating facility-provided meals.

Additionally, all of the 21 declared hunger strikers have refused medical protocols, specifically, refusing to be weighed, the statement said.

Due to privacy rules, ICE said it is prohibited from identifying individuals engaged in a hunger strike or discussing specifics about their case without their consent. Once a person is receiving hunger strike treatment, only a physician may terminate the treatment.

Moor’s statement also addressed concerns about ICE’s response to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, noting the as of June 5, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 among detainees or staff:

  • All detainees are screened medically upon their arrival to facilities.
  • Protocols are in place for the protection of staff and detainee patients, including the appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) under CDC guidance.
  • Medical professionals at ICE detention facilities will also conduct a detailed medical screening for all new ICE detainees within 24 hours of their arrival to ensure that contagious diseases are not spread throughout the facility.
  • ICE detainees suspected of exposure or infection of certain diseases are isolated.

On April 17, the staff at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center began issuing detainees surgical masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Full statement from ICE:

ICE has learned of potential internal and external coercion to urge detainees to refuse meals at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center. An anonymous source at Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center declared to staff that an attorney instructed a detainee to initiate a hunger strike. ICE has also encountered recent correspondence where at least one detainee was threatened with physical harm by other detainees if the individual did not participate in a hunger strike. Detainees also told ICE staff that outside sources may be attempting to encourage detainees to participate in these hunger strikes by providing additional funds in the commissary accounts of select detainees in order to encourage the coercing of other detainees to participate in these hunger strikes. Detainees report they are being told the purpose of the hunger strikes are to protest the repetitive cycle of the meal menu; however, claims from external groups say their concerns are regarding ICE’s response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
On June 4, at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center there were 77 detainees who did not eat their facility provided dinner meal, 78 did not attend breakfast June 5, and 83 did not attend lunch. Of those, 21 detainees made hunger strike claims to staff, the rest said they just were not interested in eating their facility provided meals. Per regulation, those 238 meals had to be discarded.
In hunger strike cases, while ICE considers nine consecutive missed meals to be a benchmark for determining the need to place detainees into a medical facility for observation, it is not the only factor in determining if detainees are on hunger strike. Someone who is not eating food because they are on hunger strike will lose weight daily. Medical staff are required to measure and record detainee weight for the initial evaluation and at least once every 24 hours during a hunger strike. All 21 declared hunger strikers have refused hunger strike medical protocols, specifically they have all refused to be weighed.

Jonathan Moor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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