Immigrant rights advocates from across the west coast convened outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Downtown San Bernardino on July 7 to support hunger strikers inside the Adelanto Detention Facility.
Advocates say about 30 detainees began a hunger strike on July 5. They are demanding better medical care, access to legal representation, and bond reductions from immigration officials.
“We are not demanding that they fulfill our [wants], but that they understand the different needs we have,” reads a letter drafted by the detainees. “Today we have the need for reasonable bonds that allow us to leave this prison and continue our cases outside.”
Immigrant rights organizers, who have come from as far as Tacoma, Washington to express support for the strike, are urging the public to pay attention to detainee grievances.
“This isn’t the time for us to just stand back,” said Maru Mora Villalpando of NWDC Resistance, a grassroots group that helps detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. “Their success is dependent on our commitment.”
The latest strike is the fourth organized by detainees at Adelanto–the first taking place back on June 12. During breakfast that morning, nine Central American asylum seekers linked arms and refused to eat until they could file grievances with officials. Guards then used force, pepper spraying the men and forcefully moving them to solitary confinement, advocates say.
Several of the men, with the help of advocates and lawyers, have launched complaints to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in hopes of encouraging an immediate investigation into the alleged abuses.
“When they decided to start the strike is when [ICE] decided to repress them,” explained Pueblo Sin Fronteras organizer Roberto Corona. “And now they’re continuing to demand better treatment.”
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said her organization has always been straightforward when dealing with hunger strikes. The agency implements hunger strike protocols if detainees go over 72 hours without eating, she explained in an email.
Kice dismissed public assertions of an ongoing hunger strike.
“Contrary to [public] claims, there are no mass meal refusals underway at Adelanto,” wrote Kice.
The GEO Group owned and operated Adelanto Detention Facility has gained notoriety for its alleged mistreatment of detainees. Six detainees have died under ICE supervision since 2011. The latest death inside the facility occurred on May 31, when 46-year-old Honduran national Vicente Caceres collapsed on the soccer field. ICE officials said Caceres was being treated for hypertension and an umbilical hernia while in custody.
UC Riverside Ethnic Studies Professor Alfonso Gonzales, who attempted to speak to the hunger strikers earlier this week, claims he was provided misinformation by officials and denied access to the asylum-seekers. Gonzales believes the hunger strikes should be taken within the context of “anti-democratic” immigration policies.
“They’re holding people and not letting them communicate with family members, friends, and attorneys,” Gonzales said. “This is not supposed to happen in a country like this.”
Marie Lariz, 44, of Corona asked to speak about her experiences inside Adelanto. Lariz admitted she participated in a strike during her two month stay and saw some change in the conditions.
However, Lariz was forced to pay a $12,000 bond and now wears two ankle bracelets. She said she’s luckier than others.
“It’s like a nightmare in there,” said Lariz. “They treat you inhumanely. Detainees are forced to pay high bonds. Immigrants have rights in this country too.”