Reports of Hunger Strikers Being Force-Fed and Shunted Into Solitary Confinement Raise Serious Concerns

May 25, 2017

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to expose the treatment of hunger strikers in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities.

“ICE has refused to turn over documents related to hunger strikes. Yet, despite the stonewalling, cases have come to light that show hunger strikers being subjected to extraordinarily punitive treatment like force-feeding and solitary confinement. We want to know just how widespread the abuse is,” said Carl Takei, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project who works on immigration detention issues.

The ACLU is seeking a range of documents related to hunger strikes in ICE detention — from policies to records of specific incidents. The complaint notes that advocates for social change — including Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Cesar Chavez — have long used hunger strikes as a form of nonviolent protest. The modern-day immigrants’ rights movement is no exception. In recent years, hunger strikes have roiled immigration detention facilities in many states, as detainees seek to call attention to lack of access to bond hearings and inhumane conditions of confinement.

In April 2014, for example, the ACLU of Washington sued ICE for putting hunger strikers in solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. And this month, a federal court authorized officials at the Stewart Detention Center, run by private prison company Corrections Corporation of America/CoreCivic, to restrain and force-feed a hunger-striking immigration detainee. According to reports, the hunger striker is Vitaly Novikov, a refugee from the former Soviet Union who is protesting ICE’s plans to deport him to the Ukraine.

In the past few weeks alone, hunger strikes have begun in Georgia, Oregon, and Washington, with more potentially on the way.

“The Trump administration’s plans to expand detention and strip away existing structures for oversight of detention are likely to produce more protests both inside and outside the walls of detention facilities,” said Takei. “It is critical to expose abusive conditions of confinement in ICE detention, protect the First Amendment rights of people in confinement, and resist the Trump administration’s infringements on civil rights and civil liberties.”

The case, American Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Homeland Security, was filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C. The ACLU is being represented by attorney David Sobel, the ACLU National Prison Project, and the ACLU of the District of Columbia.

The complaint is at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/aclu-v-department-homeland-security-complaint

More information is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/aclu-v-department-homeland-security

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