Day 6 in Hunger Strike at Port Isabel Center

Anayanse Garza, 27.04.2009

According to detainees, The Port Isabel Detention Center is an example of what should not be happening at any Detention Center. However, staff at the facility continue to hide the abuse. Over the last few months, detainees have made many complaints, but the continued deplorable conditions have pushed detainees to engage in non-violent protest.

The Port Isabel Detention Center is an approximately 1,200 bed adult female and male facility. The PIDC boasts that is one of the largest facilities staffed by the Division of Immigration Health Services.

Approximately 3 weeks ago, Dora Schiriro, the special advisor on ICE and retention and removal, visited both the Port Isabel Detention Center and the Raymondville Detention Center. During the time of her visit detainees believe that she truly did not see the manner in which they are treated and the conditions that they are subjected to because staff intentionally hid this from her.

According to detainees, The Port Isabel Detention Center is a “Gitmo Light”, a prime example of what should NOT be happening at any of Detention Centers. However, staff at the facility continue to hide the abuse. Over the last few months, detainees have made many complaints to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and facility operators of Ahtna Technical Services Incorporated (ATSI), but the continued deplorable conditions have pushed detainees to engage in non-violent protest.

On Wednesday April, 22, 2009, at least 70 detainees began to refuse food.

I visited the Port Isabel Detention Center after speaking with a close friend of one of the detainees, Rama Carty. Rama has been at the Port Isabel Detention Center since December.

At the PIDC, there are 4 pods in each unit. On Wednesday, April 22, 2009, 3 of the pods in the Bravo Unit began to refuse food and initiated the hunger strike. Rama Carty was one of those detainees.

After the hunger strike began, Field Director Michael Watkins then began to talk to detainees. Talks continued for 3 days in an attempt to talk detainees into giving up the hunger strike. During this time, 10 of the hunger strikers were separated to a different unit called the Charlie Unit by themselves as a divide and conquer strategy. Although Rama and possibly other detainees continue to also participate in the hunger strike, they were not placed with the other 10 detainees.

The snack machine was taken out of the Charlie Unit and officials claimed that this was to make sure they were not eating and necessary in order to monitor the condition of the detainees on the strike. However, during that same time period when press contacted the ICE about this their response was :“the hunger strike is ended and all persons are accepting their meal trays.” However, individuals continue the hunger strike.

According to Rama, detainees like himself want to expose the following:
· Detainees on the Hunger Strike must be allowed visitation of sympathizers and press during the required hours to make a public statement of the true nature of their situation.
· Detainees on the hunger strike hope to bring attention to the physical and verbal abuse that detainees are subjected to by the guards.
· Detainees are not getting the required medical attention they need if they are ill or have medical complications.
· Detainees face a situation in which there are grossly insufficient legal resources available to them.
· Detainees have stated that they face violations to their due process rights, do not receive adequate medical attention, and have experienced physical and verbal abuse from ICE and ATSI officers.
· Detainees encourage the community to support them in the hunger strike by taking actions that bring public attention to the reasons they initiated the hunger strike.

The detention centers are being used as a tool to sweep people out of the United States.

Operations at these facilities continue to be the gatekeeper of the former administration, implementing the same harsh treatment and injustice as before through the obstruction of justice and denying detainees their right to due process, healthcare, and freedom from physical and verbal abuse.

Mark Bevans, whose brother is being detained there said, “my brother was physically abused there and was refused medical care until his consulate was notified and advocated for him to receive the attention he needed. He is from New York, and they took him away from all his resources. They are not giving him a fighting chance to get out by putting him all the way down there. It’s hard.”

Catherine Yee, a loved one of a detainee said, "the point of this hunger strike is to let the media and the community know that the detainees' rights are really being violated. My boyfriend has been there for over 180 days and they cannot deport him since the country where he was born does not recognize him as their national. He is thousands of miles away from his home and attorney in Boston, and he is not getting medical care."

I, Anayanse Garza, visited the PIDC on Saturday, April 25, 2004. I made this statement after speaking with Rama Carty, a detainee at the Center.

As a side note, on Friday, April 24, 2009, when I tried to call Rama to notify him of my visit, I left my name and phone number as is required so that he could then return my call. Rama was given the wrong phone number and we were unable to communicate. Detainees should be able to rely on efficient communication.

On Saturday, April 25, 2009, upon entering the facility I was asked to leave my belongings in a locker, when the guards were asked if they allowed pen and paper into the visitation area they told me that I would not be allowed to take neither a pencil/pen nor paper. When I sat down to visit with Rama, he told me that they had lied to me. It is not against regulation to have pen and paper when visiting. These are only a few of the misinformation that has been generated in the short time I have been in contact with the Port Isabel Detention Center. I can only imagine how this can escalate for detainees who must tolerate this attitude for month and some of them for years in a solitary detention facility like the PIDC.

Southwest Workers’ Union stands in solidarity with the Detainees at the Port Isabel Detention Center who initiated and continue their hunger strike for justice.

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