By Kimberly Torres
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A “Hunger Strike Support Coalition” Friday announced a class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and GEO Group, the private, for-profit prison company that owns and operates the ICE’s migrant detention centers, because of mistreatment and retaliation of those participating in a hunger strike that began Feb. 17.
The coalition also has met with the California Congressional Delegation to “draw attention to the strikers’ demands for release and the shutdown of Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex, given ICE’s well-documented history of abuse within detention facilities nationwide.”
The lawsuit alleges five people and “other detained people have faced retaliation, including threats of solitary confinement and bans on family visitation, for engaging in a collective hunger strike to demand their release from immigration custody and the shutdown of both facilities.”
“The (five) plaintiffs—are among the approximately 82 detained people who declared a hunger strike on Feb. 17, 2023. They argue that retaliation against any striker violates their right to peacefully speak out against their mistreatment and violates their right to petition the government for a redress of their grievances,” said the coalition.
The Hunger Strike Support Coalition includes the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Centro Legal de la Raza, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, El Concilio Family Services, Freedom for Immigrants, Free Them All Coalition SD, Kern Welcoming and Extending Solidarity to Immigrants, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement Sacramento Chapter, La Voz de los Trabajadores, Latino Coalition for Health Equity, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild, Pangea Legal Services and Papeles Para Todos, and Rapid Response Network of Kern County.
“Since the hunger strike began, ICE and GEO Group have harassed them by threatening to place them in solitary confinement, making the temperature of the dorms painfully cold, and taunting them with food…officials have denied them family visitation, access to worship services, and access to the detention center yard, among other recreational activities,” the coalition added.
“We are hunger-striking because we see the pain that everyone in here is going through. When I look at everyone and how much they believe in the fact that putting themselves through this can make a change, it gives me hope,” said plaintiff Guillermo Medina Reyes.
Reyes added, “We are all humans. There are people here who are fathers, brothers, and husbands. They deserve a real chance to fight their case and to have a chance at liberty as well. That’s why we started the strike and this lawsuit.”
The coalition explained, “For years, peaceful protests at Mesa Verde and the Golden State Annex have been met with retaliation,” and that’s why “The 2022 complaint prompted 16 members of the California Congressional Delegation to send a letter to DHS regarding the allegations of disturbing conditions and retaliation.”
“The 2023 complaint concerns widespread reports from detained people that they have been subject to sexually abusive pat-downs in retaliation for engaging in constitutionally protected, free speech activity,” said the support coalition, noting this led to “The hunger strike (and) follows years of peaceful advocacy by people detained… to demand fair wages, better conditions, and humane treatment.”
The coalition added, “The people detained in these horrific detention centers have undeniable First Amendment rights to speak out against their abuse… ICE detains people indefinitely under hideous living conditions, including facilities rife with black mold, while GEO Group profits from their labor by paying workers in custody $1 a day.”
The coalition said, “In a separate lawsuit challenging the meager pay for detained workers at another immigration detention facility in Adelanto, Calif., also run by GEO Group, a court expert calculated that the private prison company has made an extra $26.7 million dollars in profit between 2011 and 2019 due to low-wage work performed by detained immigrants.”