Two detainees, fearing COVID-19, go on hunger strike at PI Detention Center

By Gaige Davila 

Two people detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC) have gone on a hunger strike, fearing they will contract COVID-19 at the facility after three persons tested positive there. 

The PRESS has contacted ICE for confirmation on the hunger strike.

The two men are from Cuba, Julio Cutino Sanchez and another man who has withheld his name; both men have been awaiting their deportation for months, according to a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

“We would rather die of hunger than of the coronavirus here inside without any kind of attention,” said the man who withheld his identity. “We decided to go on a hunger strike because there are many cases of the coronavirus here that people outside do not know about. If they are not going to send us back to our country, they should release us.”

Persons detained at the PIDC say there are at least 216 people quarantined there. The two men detained at PIDC said they share phones, tablets, and recreation equipment with hundreds of other people detained, many of whom are under quarantine for having come in contact with someone with a confirmed or a suspected case of COVID-19, the press release states. They say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staff in the facility do not provide disinfectant cleaning supplies.

The PRESS is awaiting confirmation on how many people are quarantined at the PIDC from ICE.

“People detained eat, sleep, and use the bathroom within feet of each other in crowded dormitories where it is impossible to maintain physical distance,” the press release states. Guards come in and out of their dormitories without masks.”

“The individuals we speak to fear that they will not get out of ICE detention alive. They have children and families they are worried they will never see again. ICE has the authority to release the people in their custody. ICE should stop endangering the lives of people in detention, their employees, and the broader community and free all individuals detained,” Norma Herrera, community organizer with the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, said.

“ICE doesn’t return me to my country and doesn’t release me here,” Cutino Sanchez said. “If there is no one outside to help us, we are going to die here on hunger strike.”

The three persons detained at the PIDC are a 27-year-old man from Guatemala; a 19-year-old man from Haiti; and a 20-year-old man from Mexico, an ICE spokesperson told the PRESS. 

There are 754 positive COVID-19 cases inside ICE facilities across the United States, as of May 31, according to ICE’s website. Also as of May 31, 2,781 detainees have been tested for COVID-19. There are currently 25,911 people detained in ICE facilities, as of May 23. 

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