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More than 200 hunger strike at Eloy immigration detention center

More than 200 immigrant detainees launched a hunger strike Saturday morning, demanding an end to "brutal and inhumane conditions" and independent investigations into the death of at least one detainee at the Eloy Detention Center, 50 miles north of Tucson.

At about 9:45 a.m., a group of men sat down in the recreation yard of the detention center and declared their strike, said activists with the Puente Human Rights Movement, an immigrant rights group. 

The facility, at which alleged illegal immigrants are held, is run by Corrections Corporations of America, a private prison contractor.

Puente Movement said the men are demanding independent investigations into recent deaths of detainees in the facility, as well as improved conditions, including adequate medical and mental health care. 

The men have also asked for access to legal resources and court hearings when requested, and an end to what they called the "exploitation of detainees' work," said Puente Movement. 

The protest has centered around the death of Jesús Deniz-Sahagun, 31, who was found dead in his cell by staff on May 20. 

Emergency responders attempted to revive him, but were unsuccessful, according to a press release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The agency said that there were no signs of apparent injury, but that an autopsy was pending. 

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The cause of death has not been released. 

Deniz-Sahagun was the fourth detainee to die in ICE custody nationwide in fiscal year 2015, the agency said. 

In 2013, two detainees committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells while in custody at the Eloy Detention Center. 

Puente published a letter written by a detainee at the center. The translated letter said CCA guards beat an immigrant who "had his hands up and begged for his right to see his lawyer." The immigrant later died, the letter said. 

Caroline Picker, a supporter with Puente Movement wrote in a text that group has detainee reports about a man "being brutalized, dragged into isolation unconscious, and never seen again." 

In a statement released Saturday afternoon, ICE said in a press release that the agency was "committed to ensuring the welfare of those in custody."

"ICE managers and detention center staff communicate with detainees regularly and respects the right of people to express their opinions," the agency said. "ICE detainees are under continuous observation by center staff and medical personnel."

The agency also said that "At this time, no detainees have declared a hunger strike related to this protest." 

"These disruptions are planned and coordinated by outside groups, and not by ICE detainees," said an ICE official, who was not authorized to speak to the media. 

By 1 p.m. around 100 supporters stood outside the facility. 

The detainees waved through the fence and said gracias por apoyarnos or "thank you for your support." 

On Facebook, Puente Movement announced plans for a vigil outside the detention center starting at 7 p.m. 

Activists also said that CCA officials were ignoring medical issues. One letter said that officials were refusing to give her the right medication for her schizophrenia she's taken for the last eight years because of the expense. 

Detainees did not sign the letters, activists said, for fear of retribution.

"The deaths of these two men has triggered outrage of people that have nothing but their bodies as a way to demand justice," said Francisca Porchas, an immigrant rights supporter. "A hunger strike is the only tool they feel like they have in a place where they are deprived of everything."

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 6 »

6
3 comments
Jun 19, 2015, 11:42 am
-0 +1

I’m not worried about immigrants, I am one.  I worry about migrants who refuse to assimilate.  We entered legally as refugees, obeyed US laws, and learned English.  Immigrants are an asset to the US.  Migrants who refuse to assimilate are a liability.  Immigrants know what it is like for foreign nationals to enter ones country & demand changes.  These were the real war criminals
Horthy is a different argument.  Hungary was invaded by the Nazi’s in 1944 & Horthy was deposed & sent to Bavaria.  he tesified against the Nazi’s at Nuremburg.

5
343 comments
Jun 18, 2015, 3:24 pm
-0 +0

Why don’t you go back Gabor if you are worried about immigrants…a lot of Hungarian immigrants that came here were supporters of Horthy the war criminal

4
3 comments
Jun 18, 2015, 1:40 pm
-1 +0

Yes we rec’d green cards but we applied for them & waited for years in a refugee camp before we could enter even though we had a sponsor.  If all migrants did that they would be immigrants & not have a problem

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Puente Human Rights Movement

Activists demonstrate outside the Eloy Detention Center on Saturday.