Last Saturday over 200 immigrants began a hunger strike at Eloy Detention Center (read prison) in Phoenix, Arizona. The hunger strike was initiated to protest the suspicious circumstance surrounding the death of Jose de Jesus de Deniz-Sagahún.
Deniz-Sahagún was found dead in his cell on May 20. An official U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) statement says there was no sign of injury and ICE as of yet has not released any cause of death. Immigrants detained in the prison tell a very different story: Deniz-Sahagún was beaten, sprayed with mace, stripped and locked in solitary confinement before he died.
Eloy Detention Center is owned and operated by Corrections Corporations of America. The for-profit, private prison exploits and mistreats immigrants being detained there on a regular basis. Detainees work 8-hour shifts for $1. Medical care is inadequate. Prisoner abuse by guards is rampant.
The hunger strikers are calling for an independent investigation into Deniz-Sahagún’s death, improved conditions, access to legal resources and an end to detainee exploitation.
The striking detainees are being supported by Puente Human Rights Movement, an immigrant rights organization, that organized a demonstration and vigil outside the prison on Saturday. They then demonstrated at the ICE office in Phoenix on Monday. The Mexican Embassy has also pledged to “continue visiting this and other detention centers to verify that Mexican nationals are treated in a humane and respectful manner.”
Eloy administrators characteristically responded to the hunger strike by refusing to officially recognize the strike while locking the strikers
outside on Saturday for hours in over 100-degree heat and refusing them medical care.
The situation at Eloy is not an isolated one. The nefarious partnership between ICE and for-profit prison corporations characterizes an entire system that is known for its brutality and mistreatment of human beings. In early June, the ACLU blasted detention centers along the U.S.-Mexican border for keeping 1000s of people, many children, in horrible conditions. This last Monday UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also called out US detention centers for inhumane conditions—for a lack of healthcare and for violence and overcrowding. These aren’t particularly radical organizations at all that are openly recognizing the U.S. government’s clearly brutal and inhumane treatment of immigrants.
A sustainable solution to this brutality sounds radical but is actually quite straightforward—close down the detention centers, offer amnesty to immigrant workers and ensure for the care of the children sitting in the detention centers. Immigrant workers are not criminals. They are people forced to leave their countries in search of work and to escape violence. These conditions are the inheritance of 500 years of colonial exploitation compounded by a more recent neoliberal ravaging of local economies that favors multinational corporations over the needs of people and the environment.
The immigrants leading this strike and speaking out against the conditions at Eloy should receive all of our support and solidarity in this difficult struggle. We stand with them as they take on the Corrections Corporations of America and ICE.