US border crisis: ICE officials force-feeding immigrants on hunger strike in Texas detention centre

Sarah Harvard

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are force-feeding migrants who are on hunger strike at a detention centre in El Paso, Texas.

ICE officials have been inserting plastic tubes up the nasal cavities of four migrant detainees, and say the method was authorised by a federal judge this month. Family members of migrants say the force-feeding is causing severe nosebleeds and vomiting.

Force-feeding is when a lubricated tube is pushed through the nostril until it reaches the throat, so that liquid food can be pumped into the stomach. The United Nations Office of Human Rights has described force-feeding as a “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” practice, and others. The World Medical Association holds force-feeding as an unethical practice. Some human rights groups consider force-feeding to be a form of physical torture.

"Forced feeding is never ethically acceptable," the World Medical Association said in its declaration on hunger strikers in 1991. "Even if intended to benefit [the detainee], feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment."

The migrants are on a hunger strike to protest the alleged abusive conditions at the El Paso Processing Centre. The Associated Press reported that the detainees—many of whom are from India and Cuba—went on a hunger strike to protest against guards who verbally abuse and threaten them.

The migrants are also protesting the duration of their detention while they wait for legal proceedings.

In addition to the four detainees in El Paso, four other men are participating in a hunger strike in Miami, San Diego, San Francisco and Phoenix, officials say.

A spokesperson for ICE told BBC that “hunger strike protocols” were triggered after detainees missed their ninth meal in a row, and that a total of 11 detainees were on hunger strike in El Paso.

"Of these 11, four are currently being hydrated and fed non-consensually," the ICE spokesperson said.

ICE officials claim the force-feeding was in the best interest of the migrants’ health and safety since not eating food for a long period of time could lead to long-term physical and mental conditions.