Dream Nine detainees escalate protest with hunger strikes
Six young immigration reform activists ended their first week in detention in solitary confinement after going on hunger strikes because their phone access was unreliable, Benito Miller Deale from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance said.
"At this point the facility is telling them that they're going to be isolated, put on suicide watch in cells," Deale said. "And the reason for that is several of the women and all of the men are on a hunger strike now so all of the calls have been restricted and also because as it continues the facility's escalating so folks are in turn escalating."
The six hunger strikers are among nine activists taken into custody last Monday when they applied for humanitarian parole during an attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales.
The nine protesters were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, and they were turned over to ICE for detention while their cases for asylum are reviewed.
The protesters were initially able to make short phone calls and had planned a teleconference last week with NIYA members and reporters. When the phone service issues prevented them from participating, some of the protesters decided to launch a hunger strike, said organizer Mohammad Abdollahi.
"We've noticed is essentially since they got there is any time they make phone calls it lasts maybe 5 or 10 seconds before being cut off," Abdollahi said. "They don't really understand the reason behind that so they've actually all launched into a hunger strike until they can have their phone access and their access to the outside."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they are prohibited from discussing specific cases but take "the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care very seriously." They adhere to fundamental detention reforms initiated in 2009, including implementing new detention standards at all facilities that house ICE detainees, officials said in a statement Saturday.
"Essentially what's happening is pretty typical things," NIYA organizer Mohammad Abdollahi said. "They're telling them for bureaucratic reasons that they don't have phone privileges."
The nine detainees have had access to phones from 6:00 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. daily since they were issued phone PIN codes on Thursday morning, said a statement from ICE.
This is consistent with agency policy that is explained during in-processing, included in the detention handbook and posted next to facility phones, the statement said. Detainees are also allowed a free personal call and access to consular officials during in-processing. Afterward, detainees are issued PINs for access to phones located in detention facility living areas. They are responsible for the costs of personal calls and use pre-paid phone cards, and also have the option of placing collect calls, ICE officials said.
Those detained are Lizbeth Mateo, Lulú Martínez, Marco Saavedra, Claudia Amaro, Adriana Gil Diaz, Luis Leon, Maria Peniche, and Ceferino Santiago — a ninth protester, Mario Alejandro Felix-Garcia, joined the original eight they approached the border last week.
All of the protesters were childhood arrivals in the United States and had lived most of their lives here before returning to Mexico.
Three had been deported: Amaro in 2006, Santiago a month and a half ago and Leon "multiple times," Abdollahi said.
Diaz and Peniche had returned to Mexico voluntarily, before the passage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Mateo, Martínez and Saavedra remained in the United States; only Martínez was in the process of applying for the DACA program when they returned to Mexico in June to prepare for the protest.
The legal status of Felix-Garcia was not provided.
A decision on their humanitarian parole is pending and the detainees have started individual asylum applications as a backup plan if their parole is denied, said the group's lawyer, Pima County Public Defender Margo Cowan.
Nicknamed the Dream Nine, the detainees were sent to the Eloy Detention Center.
Despite the claims of communication complications, the nine protesters were making progress on their other goals, Abdollahi said.
"We sort of went in from the get-go mentioning that if they were sent to a detention center they would organize from the inside, they would gather stories, they would get stuff to the outside," Abdollahi said. "They've already managed to do that the very tight limitations, they've managed to collect several stories of other folks who should not be detained at this facility."
Goals include obtaining stories of other detention center inmates who are detained over their immigration offenses with nonexistent or only minor additional charges such as traffic violations, Abdollahi said.
Deale said these cases exemplify contradictions to an agency policy of focusing on immigration detainees who are a threat to public safety ahead of other cases for prosecutorial discretion that ICE Director John Morton outlined in a 2011 memo.
The protestors consider their asylum applications as a backup measure because they can take over a decade to be approved, but the process will start with individual interviews scheduled to begin this week, Cowan said.
NIYA organizer Karen Savage said that Congressman Mike Honda had drafted a letter to President Obama supporting the humanitarian parole option that already had 19 co-signers.
"One thing that has also happened is that we've really seen from some our friends and real champions of immigration reform are real resistant to coming forward and speaking out and supporting the Dream Nine," Savage said. "For us it's really difficult to understand how our immigration reform champions expect to be able to provide immigration reform for 8 million people when they cannot get eight, now nine, dreamers released from detention and brought home to the country they call home."