60 detainees go on hunger strike in Mass. ICE detention center
Families for Freedom said the detainees were protesting deplorable conditions in the facility
By Jennette Barnes
The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.
DARTMOUTH, Mass. — At least 60 immigration detainees went on a hunger strike at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Dartmouth this week. Sources made conflicting claims on Friday about whether the strike was still ongoing.
Families for Freedom, an immigrant organization in New York, said that detainees began refusing food on Tuesday. The group posted on social media that the strikers were protesting deplorable conditions, including "nearly nonexistent medical care, inedible food, abuse from facility employees, and exorbitant commissary prices."
Violeta Múnera, the group's operations director, said that as of Friday morning, the strike continued. But the sheriff's office said otherwise.
Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who operates the ICE detention center, said the hunger strike did involve 60 detainees but began on Wednesday and ended at lunch on Thursday.
He said about 60 detainees in one wing of the ICE center refused lunch on Wednesday. At supper that night, six people ate, and at breakfast the next morning, between six and 10 people ate, he said. Everyone ate lunch on Thursday, according to Darling.
Múnera disagreed. She said the strike continued at least into Friday and that 72 people in another immigration unit joined the strike Friday morning. As of that time, more than 130 people were on hunger strike, she said.
Again, the sheriff's office provided information to the contrary, saying that about 62 people in a unit that holds ICE detainees inside the main jail at the Dartmouth House of Correction declared they were going to skip lunch, but they decided to eat lunch after staff members met with them about their concerns.
Their concerns mirrored the claims about the ICE detention center, he said.
Families for Freedom, which supports abolishing ICE, learned of the strike via detainees' telephone calls to its hotline, Múnera said. Asked if the group had organized the hunger strike, she said no.
"This was something that they informed us about," she said. "We're just supporting them in making their strike visible to the outside world."
Families for Freedom said the food served to detainees is three to four days old, "like yellow mashed potatoes," and that getting medical attention takes up to two weeks.
Darling refuted that. He said a nutritionist creates the menu, it meets federal standards, and food is not served rotten. A nurse is present in each unit every day, he said.
As for the complaints about the commissary and phone prices, Darling said products sold in the commissary cost more than at a store like Walmart, but the jail is not turning a profit. Sales from the commissary are considered luxury items, he said.
New Bedford criminal defense attorney Dana Sargent said inmates and detainees engage in hunger strikes on occasion because eating is one of the few things they can control, and because it gets them attention.
Darling said the "ringleader" of the hunger strike was written up for inciting the others because the strike caused them to refuse their nutrition, and actions like that can lead to violence.
©2018 The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.