No Relief for Asylum Seekers on Hunger Strike

     SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday declined to issue a temporary restraining order to three mothers being held in immigration custody at a Texas detention center who claimed their Holy Week hunger strike led to retaliation.
     The lead plaintiffs in the class action suit – from Latin American countries and seeking asylum in the United States – say in their April 23 lawsuit that they were locked in isolation cells after beginning a hunger strike to protest their detention and poor standards at the Karnes County Residential Detention Center in Karnes City, about 60 miles southeast of San Antonio.
     They sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and the Florida-based operator of the private facility, The Geo Group Inc., in San Antonio Federal Court.
     On Thursday, the women asked U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez to issue an injunction under the First Amendment ordering ICE and the prison operator to stop retaliating against them and to allow them to peacefully protest their detention.
     According to their lawsuit, approximately 80 mothers detained at the facility “signed and circulated a petition protesting their continued detention, decrying sub-standard detention conditions, and announcing a hunger strike” in late March.
     “Plaintiffs and other protesting mothers fed their children regularly while themselves refusing meals for several days,” their complaint says. “Plaintiffs then suspended their hunger strike to give ICE ten days to respond to their petition. After ICE failed to respond, plaintiffs and other mothers resumed refusing meals on April 14.”
     The women say in their complaint that the hunger strike led to officials locking them in small isolation cells without justification. Officers also resorted to interrogations and threats to separate the women from their children, according to the complaint.
     “The ICE officials said that mothers on hunger strike would not be in good health, would not be mentally fit to care for their children,” the complaint says.
     “Plaintiffs were scared by these threats. They believed that ICE would label them as crazy and send their children to another detention facility,” the women add.
     Attorneys for the Justice Department argued in court documents filed on Thursday that the suit should be dismissed, citing a lack of jurisdiction on the basis of sovereign immunity and the women’s failure to state a First Amendment claim.
     “As non-resident aliens who have not gained admission or entry to the United States – and who have not established connections to the United States – plaintiffs are not entitled to prevail in a lawsuit seeking relief for alleged violations of the First Amendment,” DOJ attorneys said in a May 7 filing.
     The women say ICE detains over 300 mothers and children at the Texas facility while their asylum applications wind through the immigration courts.
     They are represented by Trisha Trigilio of Austin and Javier Maldonado of San Antonio.

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