ICE: Possible hunger strike at Mesa Verde brought on by ‘coercion’ from outside groups, inmate threats

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Immigration and Customs Enforcement says an apparent hunger strike at the Mesa Verde Detention Center was possibly started by outside attorneys and other inmates.

ICE sent out a statement after more than 75 people refused meals on Thursday. ICE officials learned of a potential internal and external “coercion” to urge detainees to refuse meals at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center. By Friday, ICE says, 238 meals were uneaten.

An anonymous source told an employee at Mesa Verde that an attorney instructed people to initiate a hunger strike.

According to the statement, detainees told ICE officials that “external sources” may be coercing them to participate in the hunger strike by providing funds in their commissary accounts. ICE says they are aware of one person being threatened by others at the center if they did not participate in the strike.

Immigrants rights advocates have said conditions inside ICE facilities are poor and were not sufficient in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. ICE says there were no reported cases of COVID-19 at the facility as of June 5.

As of now, 21 people appear to have participated in a hunger strike and are refusing medical attention.

Full statement from ICE:

ICE has learned of potential internal and external coercion to urge detainees to refuse meals at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center. An anonymous source at Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center declared to staff that an attorney instructed a detainee to initiate a hunger strike. ICE has also encountered recent correspondence where at least one detainee was threatened with physical harm by other detainees if the individual did not participate in a hunger strike. Detainees also told ICE staff that outside sources may be attempting to encourage detainees to participate in these hunger strikes by providing additional funds in the commissary accounts of select detainees in order to encourage the coercing of other detainees to participate in these hunger strikes. Detainees report they are being told the purpose of the hunger strikes are to protest the repetitive cycle of the meal menu; however, claims from external groups say their concerns are regarding ICE’s response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
On June 4, at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center there were 77 detainees who did not eat their facility provided dinner meal, 78 did not attend breakfast June 5, and 83 did not attend lunch. Of those, 21 detainees made hunger strike claims to staff, the rest said they just were not interested in eating their facility provided meals. Per regulation, those 238 meals had to be discarded.
In hunger strike cases, while ICE considers nine consecutive missed meals to be a benchmark for determining the need to place detainees into a medical facility for observation, it is not the only factor in determining if detainees are on hunger strike. Someone who is not eating food because they are on hunger strike will lose weight daily. Medical staff are required to measure and record detainee weight for the initial evaluation and at least once every 24 hours during a hunger strike. All 21 declared hunger strikers have refused hunger strike medical protocols, specifically they have all refused to be weighed.

Jonathan Moor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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