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Immigrant Advocates Request Congressional Investigation into ICE’s Abuses in Response to Peaceful Protests

Hunger strikers at Pine Prairie and Bossier detention centers have been met with excessive violence and infringement of their freedom of speech 

ALEXANDRIA, La. –– The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today sent a letter to members of Congress requesting an investigation into disturbing instances of violence and retaliation deployed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and contractors including the use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, and solitary confinement. 

Detained immigrants in Bossier Medium Security Facility and Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center, both in Louisiana, orchestrated peaceful hunger strike demonstrations early last month. Those protests were followed by a wave of similar protests at LaSalle ICE Processing Center and other ICE facilities across the Deep South. Cuban detainees protesting their indefinite detention and subjection to inhumane conditions have played a critical role in organizing the peaceful protests. 

Today’s letter was sent to over a dozen elected officials, including House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings and Rep. Bennie Thompson of the House Committee on Homeland Security. The letter urges the committees to conduct an investigation into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE for the agencies’ excessive use of force and retaliatory practices against peaceful hunger strikers. The reports of unlawful force were first reported by BuzzFeed News and Mother Jones. Those reports have since been corroborated by witnesses and participants of the protests to several SPLC staff who regularly visit the facilities. 

On August 29, a coalition of organizations including RAICES, ACLU of Louisiana, and Detention Watch Network sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General of DHS requesting a formal investigation into ICE’s response and retaliation at the Louisiana detention centers. The letter asserts that ICE’s response to peaceful hunger strikers violates the agency’s own Use of force Policy. The office has yet to respond to that letter and several follow-up contacts. 

“Congress must be held to their burden of holding ICE and DHS accountable,” said SPLC senior supervising attorney Luz Lopez. “It’s clear that ICE has inflicted immense physical and mental trauma upon detainees, and this violence demands nothing short of a thorough investigation,” continued Lopez. “We have substantial reason to believe that ICE and its subcontractors have broken the law and infringed upon detainees’ Constitutional rights.”

The August 29 letter details the unlawful use of force at Pine Prairie and Bossier. “These abuses are part of ICE’s disturbing practice of punishing detained protestors for exercising their right to protest with severe retaliation and excessive force,” reads the letter. “All immigration detainees, including those who are being held pursuant to civil immigration law, and who have no prior criminal history, are entitled to rely on the protections of the due process clauses in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and they have rights under the First Amendment,” continues the letter.

The SPLC and allies look forward to cooperating with the Senate, the House, and its committees in conducting an investigation.