Congresswomen Escobar, Bonamici Call for Oversight Investigation of Force-Feeding in ICE Detention

February 19, 2019
Press Release

(El Paso, TX) – Today Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16) and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) led 47 of their colleagues in calling on the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the on-site conditions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities following recent reports of detainees being punished for protesting their treatment and force-fed while engaging in a hunger strike.

The lawmakers also demanded an explanation of the legal process and policy considerations pertaining to the involuntary tube-feeding of ICE detainees. The letter was addressed to DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) Acting Director John V. Kelly.

“According to detainees and advocates, the purpose of the hunger strikes in El Paso and elsewhere is to call attention to mistreatment and abuse in immigration detention,” the members wrote in the letter. “Yet, rather than addressing those complaints, ICE is force-feeding detainees and reportedly taking other punitive measures, including solitary confinement.  Some detainees allege that detention officers ridicule them and threaten them with deportation, despite their future immigration status being dependent on due process. If accurate, these complaints reveal unequivocal abuses of power that violate the rights of detainees.”

The letter details a clear pattern of noncompliance at ICE facilities that has already been identified in three OIG reports.

“It is alarming that ICE and detention facility contractors subject immigrant detainees – some of them asylum seekers – to conditions so odious that detainees would resort to hunger strikes,” the lawmakers continued. “Responding with force-feeding, which the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Commission has called a cruel and inhumane practice that may violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture, is appalling and casts a pall over our government’s commitment to basic human rights.”

The letter was endorsed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, National Immigrant Justice Center, the Immigration Hub, and the Hope Border Institute.

Escobar and Bonamici previously led 14 members of Congress in sending a letter to ICE Acting Director Ronald Vitiello demanding ICE to end the practice of force-feeding detainees.

In addition to Escobar and Bonamici, the letter was signed by: Jerrold Nadler, Bennie G. Thompson, Zoe Lofgren, Judy Chu, José E. Serrano, Barbara Lee, Gregory W. Meeks, Carolyn B. Maloney, Linda T. Sánchez, Betty McCollum, Nydia M. Velázquez, Juan Vargas, Gwen Moore, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., David N. Cicilline, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Adriano Espaillat, Rashida Tlaib, Sylvia Garcia, Ilhan Omar, Darren Soto, Tulsi Gabbard, Deb Haaland, Susan A. Davis, David Trone, Donald S. Beyer Jr., Earl Blumenauer, Dan Kildee, James P. McGovern, Ted W. Lieu, Andy Levin, Ro Khanna, Alan Lowenthal, Al Green, Adam Smith, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Ted Deutch, Grace Meng, Jan Schakowsky, Norma J. Torres, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, Frank Pallone, Jr., Albio Sires, Rosa DeLauro, and Diana DeGette.

The full text of the letter is available here.