The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in federal court Thursday, seeking records to expose the treatment of hunger strikers at immigration detention facilities.
The ACLU said in its filing that in recent weeks there have been a new series of hunger strikes at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, detention centers in Georgia, Oregon, and Washington.
Last month, a group of about 100 detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, refused their lunches in a hunger strike to protest conditions at the facility and delayed immigration hearings. Three hundred others joined the protest that night and the following morning.
Hundreds of immigrants at federal detention centers across the country have gone on hunger strikes in recent years, calling for improved conditions or to be released.
The suit said some inmates who have previously launched hunger strikes were met with inhumane responses.
“ICE has refused to turn over documents related to hunger strikes. Yet, despite the stonewalling, cases have come to light that show hunger strikers being subjected to extraordinarily punitive treatment like force-feeding and solitary confinement. We want to know just how widespread the abuse is,” Carl Takei, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said in a release.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said in an email to Reuters news agency: "ICE is unable to comment on pending litigation."
In the lawsuit, the ACLU is seeking a range of documents related to hunger strikes in ICE detention centers — from policies to records of specific incidents. It said this information is of especially great public interest.
“Additionally, the Trump administration’s plans to expand detention and strip away existing structures for oversight of detention are likely to produce more protests both inside and outside the walls of detention facilities,” the lawsuit said.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January making undocumented immigrants with pending criminal cases priorities for deportation, whether they have been found guilty or not.
The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress this month agreed to fund an additional 5,300 detention beds for undocumented immigrants, despite a sharp decline in the number of illegal crossings along U.S. southern border with Mexico in recent months.
According to the most recent statistics provided by ICE, an average of 36,235 immigrants was in detention per day from April 1-22.
“It is critical to expose abusive conditions of confinement in ICE detention, protect the First Amendment rights of people in confinement, and resist the Trump administration’s infringements on civil rights and civil liberties,” Takei said.