Skip to main content

Immigrant Detainees on Hunger Strike in South Texas ICE Facility

By Greg Rodriguez,

Rio Grande Valley, South Texas --It is known that nearly one-hundred of the immigrants being detained at the Department of Homeland Security(DHS)/Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s(ICE) Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC) have been on a hunger strike since April 22, 2009. PIDC is a prison used to detain immigrants arrested by the United States government. It is located in an extremely isolated area of the remote South Texas town called Los Fresnos.

The detainees have resorted to this form of non-violent direct action after months of demanding adequate medical attention and an end to abuses by guards; to no avail.

The responsible parties are DHS, ICE and more specifically, Field Director for ICE - Michael J. Pitts - who has been trying to break up the hunger strike by planning the isolation of participants, pressuring them to eat, and calling for the speedy deportation of detainees engaging in the strike – tactics which will not solve the problems, but instead deny justice to the struggling detainees. Dora Schriro, Special Advisor on ICE and Detention/Removal to DHS, is also among the responsible heads for her failure to report to the public on the conditions at PIDC.

The hunger strikers are also demand due process. In an interview with the Texas Observer, Rama Carty- one of the detainees and hunger strikers at the Port Isabel prison – said to the reporter: “It’s unjust…We are held here beyond any reasonable time, period.” Carty has been at the Port Isabel facility for about thirteen months now, according to the same report.

Deplorable conditions and lack of legal access are not uncommon at these types of facilities nationwide. It is important to note that the PIDC detainees have set a precedent for all the victims of immigration detention with this form of direct action. They have called on the community to make their struggle public.


Community Action

On the week when most class conscious workers prepare to celebrate International Worker’s Day, members and organizers with Southwest Worker’s Union (SWU), Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) – Rio Grande Valley GMB - and other community and student organizations approach the holiday with a much more somber attitude. On April 29th, 2009 the groups organized a protest and solidarity fast with detainees of PIDC.

At the protest, organizers announced a “Solidarity Fast for Justice at the Port Isabel Detention Center” that will go on until May 1st, at which point the groups will make yet another public declaration in support of the hunger strikers to local justice groups rallying for immigrant and worker’s rights.

Apart from ensuring that the PIDC hunger strikers’ demands are met, the SWU has made it a priority to gain access to hunger strikers in order to ensure their well being.

"Our main priority is to ask for you to recognize the hunger strike publicly and allow community members (to) be allowed into the facility to monitor the detainees on hunger strike so that we can have a transparent process," said a letter delivered to ICE officer, A. Machacek, by Anayanse Garza of the SWU. The letter was addressed to Pitts and Schriro – holding them directly accountable for the health and conditions of the detainees.

As I write this, the PIDC detainees have been on hunger strike for one week already. It is important for the community to take action. Many of these people have serious medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, making every day on hunger strike more dangerous than the last. The groups organizing outside the facility, including the IWW, stress the urgency as they continue to gather community support and engage in solidarity fasts and protests.


IWW stands for Solidarity.

As IWW members, let’s not forget the concept of solidarity. We should recognize that the detainees at the Port Isabel facility are, in fact, international workers. These workers have been forced to migrate to the U.S. by dire economic conditions -caused by first world business and their local puppet governments – in search of quality labor conditions, which is near impossible to find in their homelands; once in the U.S, they are arrested and locked up by the same institutions that caused their migration in the first place. The injustice continues behind the walls of immigrant detention centers all over the country, where immigrants are subject to abuse and treated as less than human.

Any member of our Union should view these prisons as part of the U.S. and its capitalist agenda that aims to keep poor people in poverty and international workers repressed and in fear of speaking up for their rights.

The Detainees should inspire us, and remind us that even in the most repressive conditions, organized workers engaging in direct action are the driving force for change.

We must ensure victory for PIDC detainees.

Contact me via e-mail to find out how you can support the hunger strikers at PIDC.