Florida ICE Detainees Launch Hunger Strike Over Meager Food Portions 

By Madison Whittemore

MACCLENNY, FL – Thanksgiving – when many people eat way more than they should – is coming up this week, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is alleging ICE detainees are literally getting bare spoonfuls of food to eat here.

The ACLU said it has sent a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after two incidents in early November at the Baker County Detention Center (BCDC) involving an alleged failure to provide immigrants with substantial meals, instead providing them with only a spoonful of food.

The ACLU wrote, “We have received reports that on or around November 4, 2023, BCDC delivered lunches consisting of a spoonful of meat, three spoonfuls of beans, and a spoonful of carrots.” The letter clarified that these spoonfuls of food were not snacks and were actually being provided as full meals.

Detained immigrants that received the spoonful of food asked the BCDC staff for larger portions of food, and threatened to launch a hunger strike if the portions were not increased, explained the ACLU, noting despite the portions increasing for a few days after the Nov. 4 incident, the detainees were once again served “spoonfuls” of food as full meals on Nov. 8. 

The ACLU reported the detainees then launched a hunger strike and were threatened by the staff with being thrown into solitary confinement.

According to the ACLU letter, “We have also heard that when people ask for more food, they have been threatened with punitive measures, including solitary confinement.”

Additionally, by feeding detainees merely a spoonful of food as a full meal, BCDC violates the government’s National Detention Standards (NDS), charged the ACLU.

“For years, time and time again, we have seen the Baker County Sheriff’s Office deny people at the facility basic human treatment and violate various federal requirements. It is their responsibility to provide sufficient food to people under their care and to maintain an environment free from threats of retaliation when individuals advocate for their basic needs,” said Amy Godshall, immigrants’ rights attorney at the ACLU of Florida. 

“Baker has already proved multiple times that it is unwilling to care for people at the facility. ICE knows about this pattern of violations and harm to those in their care and should end its contract with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office,” added Godshall.

However, despite these violations to the NDS, ICE officials acknowledged the reports but still refrained from conducting any investigations on the hunger strike, said the ACLU.

It was noted in the letter that this is not the first time that BCDC has provided “insufficient and inedible food without nutritional value.” In fact, BCDC has a lengthy track record of offering inadequate food, with the letter most notably referencing an incident in Sept. 2022 when the ACLU lodged a federal complaint against the BCDC, citing various concerns such as individuals, “being served food that is rotten, moldy, raw, and contains bugs.” 

Godshall also noted alongside the Sept. 2022 incident, there are over 191 additional complaints that have been lodged against the BCDC, according to the Florida Immigrant Detention Database, for violations including, medical neglect, voyeurism, sexual abuse and unsanitary conditions.

The ACLU wrote ICE and Baker County Sheriff Scott Rhoden, “In response to these urgent and punitive violations of the 2019 National Detention Standards (NDS), we urge you to ensure that BCDC: Immediately provides all detained individuals with substantial, nutritious meals that meet the detention standards; immediately reverses any punitive or retaliatory measures taken against individuals because they advocated for adequate food or initiated a hunger strike; refrains from threatening or imposing solitary confinement on any individual for advocating for adequate food or initiating hunger strikes and refrains from engaging in any other acts of retaliation against individuals advocating for adequate food or engaging in hunger strikes.”

About The Author

Madison Whittemore is a rising junior at the University of California, Davis where she studies political science and psychology. After completing her undergraduate studies, Madison wants to go to law school and study criminal law while working to improve efforts for prison reform and representation for lower income citizens.

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