A U.S. government watchdog agency has launched an investigation in the wake of an Associated Press report revealing complaints about how immigration authorities treated hunger strikers at a detention center in Texas.
The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this month interviewed two Indian men who said they had suffered mental and physical anguish when they were force-fed through nasal tubes at the immigration detention facility, the men's attorneys said.
A spokeswoman for the inspector general's office, Tanya Alridge, confirmed to the AP that the agency was investigating complaints made by detainees at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's El Paso Processing Center, but would not say whether the complaints involved the force-feeding or a broader list of concerns.
Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman for ICE, said the agency could not comment.
After the AP revealed in January that ICE was involuntarily feeding nine immigrant detainees who had staged a hunger strike to protest their confinement, the facility abruptly stopped the controversial practice. The Geneva-based United Nations human rights office said in February that the force-feeding of immigrant hunger strikers there could violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
Nearly 50 Democratic lawmakers called for a watchdog investigation soon thereafter, asking that the inspector general investigate conditions at ICE facilities and policies surrounding the involuntary feeding of immigrant detainees.
One hunger striker in El Paso, an asylum seeker from the Indian state of Punjab, had described being dragged from his cell three times a day and strapped on a bed as a group of people poured liquid into tubes inserted into his nose.
In interviews at the detention facility earlier this month, the inspector general's office asked Jasvir Singh and Rajandeep Singh, Sikh asylum seekers from India, how many times a day the detainees had been force-fed, what kind of medical care they got, whether they were tied down and whether cameras had recorded it all, according to the two men's attorneys.
"Unfortunately it was traumatic for him to recount it all again," said Nicolas Palazzo, an El Paso-based attorney representing Jasvir Singh. Jessica Miles, who represents Rajandeep Singh, said that DHS OIG investigators "made it very clear that they were investigating the allegations of abuse during the force-feeding."
The two men were released on bond two weeks ago, and have been reunited with family in California. Immigration judges initially ordered that both men be deported, but they have appealed.
Three of the men who were force-fed remain in ICE custody and four others have been deported back to India, according to the El Paso-based Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee.