500 Migrant Fathers Stage Hunger Strike in Texas Detention Center
“We want to get out. He cries every day, he doesn't want to eat. He's only 6 years old."
More than 500 migrant men and their children being held in a Texas detention facility began a hunger strike on Friday to force the federal government to expedite their cases and put an end to what the United Nations has called ongoing human rights violations, according to NPR.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) announced the protest after interviews with detained fathers at the Karnes Detention Center, in Karnes City, Texas.
"Everyone has agreed that we will stop eating,” a Honduran father who asked to remain anonymous said in an interview with RAICES. “We are doing so because we don't know what will happen to us. We need to know if we will be deported or allowed to remain in this country. We are asking the government to free us. We are not criminals.”
RAICES said that the migrants plan to gather in the facility’s three patio areas with their children and refuse food until their demands are met, according to BuzzFeed News.
Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) downplayed the hunger strike.
"A small group of fathers and their children (fewer than 50 total) staged a brief sit-in and expressed their concerns about their immigration cases," ICE said in a statement. "The on-site ICE supervisor thoroughly explained the process; the residents appreciated the information and dispersed.”
RAICES, however, claims that the migrants are traumatized by the experience of having been separated from their children for long periods during the past few months and for being treated like criminals.
“The trauma caused by their separations has forced these fathers into untenable positions of fear, anger, and despair,” Manoj Govindaiah, director of family detention at RAICES, said in a statement. “That these families feel the need to strike shows how tired they are of the games the administration continues to play.”
Many of the striking migrants allegedly want to simply be deported so that they no longer have to wait in custody.
“The children no longer want to be here, detained,” Jorge, a detained migrant from Honduras, said in an interview with RAICES. “We can’t stand it anymore. We are desperate. They should just do what they need to do, whether it is to deport us or allow us to be free to work with visas.”
Other participants said that they were coerced into signing voluntary deportation orders by ICE agents who claimed that they would be denied access to their children otherwise.
In any case, Dana Sabraw, a federal judge in San Diego, imposed an indefinite stay on deportations while a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plays out.
This isn’t the first time that migrants have staged hunger strikes in US detention facilities, which have a long history of human rights abuses, according to the ACLU.
A group of migrant mothers recently staged a similar strike, but were deterred when ICE agents said that they would be separated from their children, BuzzFeed notes.
Earlier in the year, the administration of US President Donald Trump enacted a “zero tolerance” policy that called for the absolute detention of migrants and asylum seekers, and the separation of families. After widespread outrage, the most extreme aspects of the policy were toned down.
At the same time, the detention of migrants has become a booming for-profit industry, raking in billions of dollars, and human rights groups have argued that it is a human rights violation to profit off of the detention of migrants and asylum seekers.
As the industry grows, hunger strikes like the one staged in Karnes could become commonplace.
"My son says to me he hasn't done anything to be incarcerated here. He says, 'Daddy, I am not a criminal,'" one Honduran father, who asked not to be identified, said in a statement. "We want to get out. He cries every day, he doesn't want to eat. He's only 6 years old."