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Immigrant Advocates File Civil Rights Complaints Against ICE Alleging Medical Neglect, Overuse of Solitary Confinement on Louisiana Hunger Strikers

On Tuesday, Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention (Louisiana AID) filed two complaints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) on behalf of South Asian men detained at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana. The men began a hunger strike on November 1, 2019 to protest their indefinite detention and demand their release. Since the start of their hunger strikes, one has been deported, while another was released to a sponsor on bond in late January. Since February 18, 2020 the whereabouts of two of the three men on hunger strike are unknown.

The first CRCL is a multi-individual complaint addressing the inappropriate and retaliatory use of solitary confinement against all of the five men on hunger strike. After over 100 days, the three men remaining in ICE custody continue to be segregated from the general population and are now each placed in solitary confinement with no access to other individuals or the outdoors. One of the men recently released from custody was similarly segregated from the general population of the detention center and placed in solitary isolation units for the entire 88 day duration of his hunger strike. All of the men claim solitary confinement was in retaliation for their hunger strike.

The second CRCL addresses the medical neglect, obstruction of independent medical evaluation, and withholding of information to legal counsel of the man who was deported on day 83 of his hunger strike. According to ICE’s own standards of care, individuals in their custody and their representatives are entitled to medical records, independent medical evaluation, and the provision of a medical stabilization plan upon release.

"Medical personnel at the LaSalle Detention Facility violated basic standards of care in numerous ways: They subjected men to force-feeding in violation of numerous internationally recognized codes of biomedical ethics, failed to respond appropriately to alarming vital signs, and on numerous occasions obstructed access to medical records, in violation of their own policies. In many cases, this kind of neglect can cause or hasten death. This woeful neglect dramatically increases the chance of yet another death in the hands of ICE," said Dr. Catherine Jones, MD, a licensed physician in New Orleans.

“The idea that ICE is using isolation as a punitive measure against these men on hunger strike, is appalling. I can’t think of anything crueler than taking a person who is already in detention, and further removing them from any amount of human contact. I have witnessed firsthand the serious and negative impacts that prolonged solitary confinement has had on them, damage that will have permanent consequences and will take a lifetime, if ever, to heal from,” said Michelle Graffeo, a visitation volunteer with Louisiana AID, a member of Freedom for Immigrants.

"ICE and its health care providers have not only violated medical standards of care, but also failed to create necessary policies for responding to people on hunger strike,” said Sofia Casini, Southeast Regional Coordinator at Freedom for Immigrants. “It is tantamount to murder when our government moves to deport a person on hunger strike without first implementing a medical stabilization plan. Deporting a man who was on hunger strike for 80 days just days before an independent physicians' medical evaluation, without alerting the man's attorney, raises many questions, the least of which is: what is ICE hiding? ICE must answer to this man's family and the community immediately - before others choosing this form of political protest and risk death mid-flight as well."

"ICE and the private prison companies contracted to run detention centers like LaSalle exhibit zero regard for the well-being and safety of those they lock up. Their relentless cruelty is the one constant in the dehumanizing experience of ICE detention,” said Laura Murchie, direct services attorney with the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative. “The appalling treatment of these men on prolonged hunger strike – undoubtedly an act of total desperation and last resort – underscores ICE’s system-wide failure to provide humane conditions and proper medical care for those under its custody," continued Murchie.