EL PASO, Texas (CN) – Two Indian asylum seekers who have been on a hunger strike for more than 70 days in protest of their detention were transferred to a long-term acute care hospital this week as their health deteriorated further, the men’s immigration attorneys said Wednesday.
Linda Corchado, who is representing Ajar Kumar, said at a press conference Wednesday that her client and the other man, Gurjant Singh, were transferred to the El Paso LTAC facility on Monday.
The men are among at least three Indian nationals seeking asylum who have been subject to forced feeding in recent months while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The feeding involves inserting tubes through the men’s noses and down into their stomachs, a process immigrant advocates have condemned as inhumane. The World Medical Association, a global physicians’ organization, has described the process as “tantamount to torture.”
“My client is in excruciating pain,” Jessie Miles, the attorney representing Singh, said. “If he dies, it is because ICE will not release him.”
Advocates have called for authorities to release the men on bond while their immigration proceedings play out, something the government has so far declined to do. The men are still in federal custody while receiving care at the long-term clinic, their attorneys said.
An ICE spokesperson did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about the men’s status.
Court documents in Kumar’s case reveal graphic details of a previous incident where a feeding tube inserted into his nose by a government doctor “coiled” before reaching his stomach, causing his nose to swell and begin bleeding. Kumar testified he “was finding it difficult to breathe” during the ordeal, according to the documents.
Still, late last week a federal judge considering Kumar’s case allowed the government to continue force feeding him if the government finds it necessary.
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo simultaneously said he found it “troubling” that Kumar was not brought to an outside doctor for evaluation when the hunger strike began, strongly encouraging authorities to take that route before seeking a force-feeding authorization in the future.
The men have not been force fed in recent days, according to their attorneys.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Corchado read a statement from Kumar, in which he described being “threatened” and “bullied” while in detention, but nevertheless called the United States “a very good country.”
“I pray for the people who were killed in El Paso [in last month’s deadly mass shooting], and pray that they rest in peace,” the statement read, according to Corchado. “I trust the people of El Paso, and believe that they will help me gain my freedom.”