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Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency officials have confirmed they are force-feeding nine detainees who initiated a hunger strike at an El Paso, Texas, detention center.

Ten detainees at the facility are under a self-imposed hunger strike, agency spokesman Danielle Bennett said in an email Saturday.

Of the 10, nine are from India and one is from Nicaragua, Bennett said. Nine of them missed nine consecutive meals, triggering the agency's hunger strike protocols -- medical evaluations and health monitoring.

At various points in mid-January, a federal judge ordered the nine to be fed and hydrated without consent, according to the agency.

The update comes on the heels of a report by The Associated Press, which first revealed Wednesday that six detainees were being force-fed at the El Paso facility. The hunger-strikers say they are protesting "rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards." After the AP report, lawmakers and human-rights groups decried the practice as "cruel, inhuman and degrading."

One hunger-striker described it as an excruciating experience when guards dragged him from his cell and restrained him for a forced feeding.

"They tie us on the force-feeding bed, and then they put a lot of liquid into the tubes, and the pressure is immense so we end up [regurgitating] it out," the detainee, identified only by his surname, Singh, told the AP. "We can't talk properly, and we can't breathe properly. The pipe is not an easy process, but they try to push it down our noses and throats."

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, whose district includes the El Paso Processing Center, said she was "deeply alarmed" by reports that detainees were being force-fed and immediately requested a visit.

On Thursday, she said she was able to meet the six detainees being force-fed -- at the time the only ones being force-fed -- before that number increased to nine a day later.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has not identified the detainees being force-fed, beyond their countries of origin. Escobar said most of the detainees she met had been in custody for 15 to 18 months.

The agency has said it "fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference" and that agency health officials have explained to the detainees the negative health effects of a hunger strike.

"[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers," the agency said in a statement. "For their health and safety, ICE closely monitors the food and water intake of those detainees identified as being on a hunger strike."

Besides the El Paso detention center, nationwide there are four other detainees on hunger strikes, the agency confirmed Saturday: one each in custody at facilities in Miami, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco.

Human Rights Watch has called on the agency to stop the "inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading" practice of force-feeding.

"Medical ethics and human rights norms generally prohibit the force feeding of detainees who are competent and capable of rational judgment as to the consequences of refusing food," the group said in a statement. "Hunger striking is a desperate expressive act. In immigration detention, it can be a response to the irrationality of prolonged and needless detention."

In August, Mergensana Amar, a Russian citizen who had been in U.S. immigration custody for more than a year, started a hunger strike that nearly killed him at a center in Tacoma, Wash., The Washington Post reported. He survived -- then died in November after he tried to hang himself.

"Amar's death is an example of the lengths that ICE will go to keep people in detention," Maru Mora Villalpando, a community organizer with NWDC Resistance, an organization that tried to help Amar, said at the time. "They could have released him, and they decided not to. He kept telling us, 'I'd rather die here than be deported.'"

A Section on 02/03/2019

Print Headline: Striking detainees force-fed, immigration agency confirms

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