Dozens of undocumented immigrants detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia went on a hunger strike that began last April. In response to their non-violent protest, the prison staff proceeded to throw them in solitary confinement.
This story, which was first reported by The Verge, seems to have been missed by the mainstream media — and that's a shame because few people know about ICE's inhumane treatment of those under their custody.
CoreCivic, the private prison corporation running the Georgia facility accused of throwing dozens of detainees in solitary confinement, was not only punishing those who were skipping meals. Many detainees who simply declared they would join the protest were also penalized.
According to the detainment logs obtained by The Verge through a Freedom of Information Act request, the organization may have harbored informants among detainees, hoping to obtain information on the organizers of the protest. These same informants later ended up in solitary confinement for their own protection.
In many cases, the logs show, detainees were just concerned about their lack of access to administrative recourse, feeling they were being held indefinitely and without being given a chance to either respond to the accusations brought against them or at least be deported to their country of origin.
One man sent to solitary confinement told ICE in November 2016 that he just wanted to be deported, while a second detainee stated “he will not eat until he is seen by ICE,” The Verge reports.
One set of logs from late November shows that several undocumented immigrants simply wanted to see their deportation officer. But immediately after they alerted detention staff about their wishes, they were locked away in isolation for “medical observation,” CoreCivic logs state.
These facilities, which were expanded under the last administration, were handed over to President Donald Trump — whose agenda includes greater enforcement of immigration rules. As the current administration broadens the criteria for deportation and detainment, we can expect to see more similar stories, especially since stock prices for prison operators like CoreCivic have risen significantly ever since the 2016 election, The Verge reports.
According to Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the social justice group Project South, the logs confirm that detainment facilities and their staffs make use of brutal crackdowns to deter hunger strikes. Having seen similar complaints coming from the same facility from 2014 and 2015, the attorney says, these logs now serve as proof of what past detainees and social justice groups have been saying for years, even as CoreCivic's spokesperson Steve Owen tells The Verge that the facility never retaliated for hunger strikes.
No “detainees at the Stewart facility have been placed in restrictive housing in retaliation for hunger strikes,” Owen told the news outlet. However, in at least 30 cases present in the logs, “hunger strike” is listed as the detention facility's primary reason for placing individuals in solitary confinement.
ICE guidelines allow facilities to place detainees in solitary confinement when “medically necessary” or when staff believes it will be essential to preserve the order. But regardless of ICE's rules, keeping immigrants in the dark as to what their status is and punishing them for protesting is downright unethical.
While the Trump administration will surely fail to address these concerns, it's important that these logs are used to bring justice and light to this matter. Speaking about these cases will help to prevent others from taking place in the future.