About 110 detainees, largely from South Asia, at three immigration detention centres in Alabama and California are on hunger strike demanding an end to their indefinite confinement and improved conditions.
The hunger strikes started Wednesday at detention centres in Etowah County, Alabama, Theo Lacey facility in Orange County, California, and Otay detention facility in San Diego, California, according to Vice News.
Most of the hunger strikers are Bangladeshi. They also include detainees from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Togo.
The detainees are calling for an end to all detention and deportation, according to Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization that advocates on behalf of South Asian immigrants.
They are also demanding the abolition of the so-called “bed quota,” which requires immigration authorities to hold an average of 34,000 people in detention on any given day, he said.
All of the hunger strikers are said to be asylum seekers that have passed the “credible fear” stage of the asylum review process, although some have since had their claims denied, Vice News said.
According to a 2010 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy, asylum seekers with credible fear findings are supposed to be automatically considered for parole from detention. Some of the hunger strikers have been held for two years.
Many of the hunger strikers are said to support the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), the country’s second largest political group that according to a recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decision qualifies as an undesignated “Tier III” terrorist organization.
The latest hunger strike was preceded by a similar action in October, when dozens of immigrant detainees in El Paso and Louisiana’s La Salle facility refused meals for about 10 days.
Former El Paso hunger striker Kamran Ahmed said on Thursday that ICE has mischaracterized his political views in relation to the BNP. “We don’t know why they call us terrorists,” he said.
In addition to ending indefinite detention and the ICE bed quota, the latest hunger strikers are also calling for better conditions, including access to better health care, clean clothes and unspoiled food, and a less repressive disciplinary regime.
According to a 2013 report by Detention Watch Network, the conditions at Etowah County Detention Centre, where about 48 people are on hunger strike, “are among the worst in country.”
“Many of us even attempted to commit suicide for fearing of the government retribution if deported,” an asylum-seeker named Mahbubur who is being held at Etowah was quoted as saying in a press release about the hunger strike.