A judge has ordered the federal government to stop force-feeding detainees on a hunger-strike at an El Paso, Tex., immigration processing center.
“This is a win for us,” said Louis Lopez, one of the attorneys representing Malkeet Singh and Jasvir Singh. Both men are seeking political asylum. “They have a First Amendment right to protest,” Lopez told the El Paso Times.
U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama ordered the government to stop force- feeding two of nine detained Indian immigrants known as the “El Paso Nine.” He said it raised several questions, but the judge warned the detainee’s attorneys that if their clients health started to decline, he would reconsider force-feeding.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported the hunger strike began with two detainees on Dec. 30, 2018, with others joining the strike. ICE then obtained court orders in January to be- gin force-feeding the detainees non-consensually.
ICE told the New York Times four other individuals at different detention centers were also on a hunger strike. Since May 2015, Freedom for Immigrants reported 1,396 people on hunger strike in 18 detention centers.
The World Medical Center in a 2006 statement said “the forced feeding of hunger strikers is unethical, and is never justified,” the New York Times reported.
Dr. Michelle Iglesias, the El Paso detention center’s staff physician, testified that force-feeding is implemented to prevent the damage done to the body by prolonged starvation. Iglesias further explained starvation can be very painful.
In a statement to the El Paso Times, ICE said that there were 12 detainees— nine from India and three from Cuba—still on a hunger strike as of Feb. 14. However, none were being force-fed against their will.
The reversal of this practice comes after public pressure by protesters, human rights advocates and the United Nations human rights office, which said that force-feeding of immigrant hunger strikers could violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture, reported the El Paso Times.