For immediate release: June 5, 2020

Contact: Jesus Chavez, Centro Legal de la Raza, [email protected], 559-213-6841

ICE’s false claims over hunger strike: Racist attempt to undermine leadership of Black immigrants

2020.6.5- This afternoon, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a blatantly false statement which mischaracterizes and defames a hunger strike led by detained immigrants at the Mesa Verde Detention Center. 

Asif Qazi, a hunger strike participant who came to the U.S. from Bangladesh at age 6, shared the following comments by phone with advocates:

I think ICE always puts forth very inaccurate info to defend their own organization. I think they believe a lot of made up information in order to derail or discourage the cause of liberation. We’re doing this on our own, and no one coerced us to do this. We are doing this because of the recent deaths in ICE custody of Choung Woon Ahn and Carlos Mejia. We are doing this because of ICE’s continuous lies in front of federal judges about how they have made it safe for us to be detained here during the coronavirus pandemic when it’s really not safe at all.

Donovan Grant, an immigrant from Jamaica who helped lead hunger strikes at Mesa Verde prior to being released last month, shared a reaction by phone. A recording is available here; an excerpt is below:

… They try to make stuff seem like everything is normal, and social distancing is going on. And that was one of the main reasons why we went on hunger strike. Due to the fact that we needed a lot of stuff. We didn’t have no type [of] disinfectant, we had no bleach, we had no paper towel dispensaries, we had no soap dispensaries. We had 100 per dorm. So it wasn’t no social distancing at all. And that was one of the main reasons why we was on hunger strike, because a lot of people was getting sick and we wanted to be safe. We didn’t want this … a civil matter, to be a death sentence. …

Centro Legal de la Raza, a legal organization that is assisting the immigrants participating in the hunger strike, stated: 

As legal representatives who frequently speak by phone with numerous people detained at Mesa Verde, we can attest that immigrants inside the detention center bravely organized this hunger strike of their own free will. This is not the first time ICE has tried to call into question the relationship between attorneys and immigrants in detention. We strongly condemn ICE’s attempts to disrupt that relationship. 

We denounce this cynical attempt to silence the voices of detained people whose lives are at risk from ICE and the GEO Group’s medical negligence, abuse, and the impossibility of physical distancing inside detention. 

ICE’s false claims invoke the same racist “outside agitator” tropes which have been deployed against protestors standing up for Black Lives across the country. This blatant deception is all the more reason for Governor Newsom to direct the Attorney General to launch an investigation to hold detention centers and their for-profit operators accountable.

ICE has a deeply troubling track record of deceiving the public. Earlier this week, an ICE official was forced to admit to a federal district judge that he had made false statements to the court. Two years ago, an ICE spokesperson in Northern California resigned over having been asked by ICE to ‘flat out lie.’

Dozens of detained immigrants launched the hunger strike Thursday, beginning the action in the name of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, and Tony McDade. The leadership of Black immigrants has been crucial to efforts to organize for justice at Mesa Verde and across the state. 

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