Defend and Stand with Immigrant Hunger Strikers at Adelanto

June 17, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


On the morning of Monday, June 12, nine Central American immigrants seeking political asylum began a hunger strike at the Adelanto Detention Center (ADC) in southern California. The men, the #Adelanto9, were protesting the denial of their rights to political asylum and demanding an end to inhumane treatment. Shortly after they began their action, the hunger strikers were brutally assaulted and attacked with pepper spray by goons from the GEO Group Inc., a private prison corporation that owns and operates ADC for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (ICE).

In a transcribed and translated phone call, Isaac López Castillo, a 27-year-old spokesman for the nine asylum seekers, relayed what happened: “[T]hey sprayed us with more pepper spray. And once they were able to pull us out, they threw some of us against the wall ... they threw me up against the glass of the phone booth. They pushed my face up into it, on the corner. And Timoteo was drenched, including his private parts, with pepper spray. Our skin is all covered with rashes, and some have gashes from their fingernails. And one of the guys had his dental crown knocked out.”  It was also reported that the nine prisoners were made to take showers with hot water afterwards, greatly increasing the pain from the pepper spray.

Just Demands of the Adelanto Hunger Strikers

In a communiqué before starting their strike, the nine asylum seekers said, “We are participants from the Migrant Pilgrimage [the caravan of Central American refugees which crossed Mexico during April and May to seek political asylum in the United States].

“We are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. We ask for your attention, because Adelanto is one of the prisons which exists for those who are seeking political asylum, and in reality our records are clean, none of us have prior criminal records. The bond is set impossibly high, and it’s a humiliating joke because we are poor, we don’t have that kind of money.” Aside from the denial of their right to political asylum, the strikers said they were taking action because of “humiliation and discrimination toward the detained,” “paperwork available only in English,” “bad food,” and other outrageous conditions and treatment.

The hunger strikers demanded: “1) Bond set fairly for all prisoners; 2) Political asylum; 3) New uniforms ... because we are being issued underwear that has been worn by other people, which risks our health; 4) More time for religious services; 5) No throwing away detainees’ belongings; 6) All paperwork must be provided in our native languages...; 7) Clean water 24 hours a day; 8) Better food for detainees; 9) The entire group of hunger strikers demand that we be released on our own recognizance as quickly as possible, since we do not have the resources to pay inflated bond amounts.”

The Migrant Pilgrimage that the nine Adelanto hunger strikers were part of was called “Caravan Against Fear” and involved 108 people who traveled through Mexico, organizing other refugees on the migrant trails and train lines. The U.S. split them up and sent them to seven different detention centers, with over half of them separated from their family members.

Under U.S. and international law, asylum seekers are given a “credible fear” interview to determine the basis for their fear of repression and violent retaliation in their home countries and the need for political asylum. According to Tristan Call, an immigrant rights advocate with the Nashville-based group Sureñxs En Acción, at least seven of the nine asylum seekers at Adelanto (and 45 of the 108 who were in the caravan) have undergone and passed the “credible fear” interviews. He said: “Most of them have had one or more family members murdered. A lot of them have had direct physical attacks that they survived themselves, and they’ve had extensive death threats.”

Tristan Call said at least one immigrant’s bond was set at $20,000. As he explained, for “a refugee from El Salvador coming with nothing, there is zero chance you will be able to do that. It’s essentially similar to the kind of extortion they were experiencing from the gangs they just fled from: You flee for your life from a place where you’re being extorted tens of thousands of dollars that you can’t pay, and then you have a similar experience with the U.S. government.” One immigration lawyer in San Diego said since Trump’s inauguration, she’s been told by ICE officials that there is zero percent chance for her clients to be released even before ICE had looked at the documents.

Women Adelanto Detainees Also Take Action

On Wednesday, June 14, it was reported that 29 to 33 women detainees at ADC joined in a one-day hunger strike and issued four demands: 1) better medical care; 2) lower bonds; 3) basic respect from GEO and ICE guards; 4) to be reunited with their children and families. There were reports that they were threatened with pepper spray and solitary confinement. Prison officials claimed the women did not refuse food, or refused it for two meals but ate by dinner. Official policy of the authorities at prisons and detention centers is that they do not recognize a hunger strike as such until it has gone on continuously for at least 72 hours.

Stop the Persecution and Deportation of Immigrants!

Beginning on June 13 and 14, various mainstream news outlets began reporting the detainees had ended "the brief hunger strike.” But on Friday, June 16, two immigrant rights groups, Detention Watch Network and Sureñxs En Accion, issued a joint statement that ICE and GEO officials had met with the #Adelanto9 on Wednesday and had admitted “fault in retaliatory attack on detained hunger strikers ... and promised that the guards and officials responsible would be investigated and punished ... [yet] the #Adelanto9 are still being held in punitive segregated housing.”

The joint statement reported that after the meeting with ICE and GEO officials, the #Adelanto9 had agreed to suspend their hunger strike at noon Wednesday—but by Thursday evening, one of the nine, Isaac López Castillo, said by phone that “[W]e see that ICE lied to us.... We feel that they tricked us, and we are going to continue because we aren’t anyone’s toys.” He said ICE had told the strikers that only a judge could grant or lower their bond for release, but they later learned that the bonds can be granted by ICE.

The Adelanto hunger strike comes at a time when the Trump/Pence regime is intensifying the criminalization of undocumented people, ordering massive deportations, and fanning the flames of anti-immigrant hatred. At least one fascist website is mobilizing America First stormtroopers to demand that the ADC immediately deport all undocumented immigrants. There is an online petition in support of the Adelanto hunger strikers, and there has been an overnight vigil at ADC as well as a press conference and rally in Los Angeles for the #Adelanto9. Much more is needed in this battle—and as part of the larger struggle by broad sections of society to drive out the Trump/Pence fascist regime from power.

As the call from Refuse Fascism for nationwide protests on July 15 to demand “The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go!” says:

The Trump/Pence Regime is ramping up harsh repressive measures against immigrants, inner city youth, and against the right to dissent. They’re pushing a budget and a “healthcare” plan of starvation, disease, impoverishment, and hatred of women. They are ratcheting up the destruction of our planet. Hard-core supporters of the regime are holding KKK/Nazi-style rallies, assaulting journalists, targeting the campuses, threatening lynching, and actually murdering two men who stood up to them in Portland, Oregon.

There is still time to stop a fascist America, but there is not a lot of time. 2018 is too late. There is no shortcut; real change has always come from determined struggle from below.



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