200 Men Launch Hunger Strike At ICE Detention Center Following Detainee’s Death

By Kenrya Rankin Jun 15, 2015

On Saturday, June 13, more than 200 men being held at the Eloy Detention Center just outside Phoenix, Arizona—run by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)—launched a hunger strike in response to ongoing abuses.

The strikers cite guard attacks, inhumane conditions, a systematic abuse of power and the death of 31-year-old Mexican national Jose de Jesus Deniz-Sahagun as the catalysts for the strike. While the ICE-issued press release following his death says Deniz-Sahagun’s body showed “no signs of apparent injury” when he was found dead in a cell, strikers say he was beaten by guards before being put in isolation. He was officially the third person to die in ICE custody in 2015. Strikers say another man also died in custody, but that his death went unreported.

According to Puente Movement, a Phoenix-based migrant justice organization that is advocating for the men, after the detainees sat down in the recreation yard at 9:45 a.m. and declared the strike, they were locked outside for six hours in 100-degree weather with no shade or water, denied visits and calls from family, and when emergency services personnel arrived to treat any potential heat stroke patients, they were turned away.

The strikers have requested a visit and investigation from Vanita Gupta, the US Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and relayed the following demands to Albert Carter, ICE’s acting field director for the Phoenix area:

  • Independent investigation into the two recent deaths in Eloy, both of which happened under mysterious circumstances after guard abuse, as well as an investigation into the ongoing problem of excessive use of force and deaths inside Eloy
  • Improved conditions, including access to adequate medical and mental health care
  • Access to legal resources and court hearings when requested
  • An end to the exploitation of detainees’ work
  • No more criminalization, detention, and deportation

ICE officials deny that the hunger strike is happening. “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is committed to ensuring the welfare of those in custody. ICE managers and detention center staff communicate with detainees regularly and respect the right of people to express their opinions. ICE detainees are under continuous observation by center staff and medical personnel. At this time, no detainees have declared a hunger strike related to this protest,” said ICE’s Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, via a press release.

“While ICE’s official policy is to not acknowledge a hunger strike in its facilities until detainees have refused food for three days or more, people inside are risking their lives to fight against ongoing abuses and violence and call for end to all detention,” said Puente Movement organizer Francisca Porchas. “Albert Carter needs to meet with strikers immediately and begin negotiations in good faith. He must hold CCA accountable for the demands of the strikers and for ongoing retaliation against them and their families for wanting to be treated like human beings.”

A press conference and rally are planned for today at 11 am local time, in front of the Phoenix ICE Field Office. There is also a petition for those who wish to support the strikers.