Immigration officials have stopped, for now, the force-feeding via nasal tubes of nine immigrants from India who were conducting a hunger strike inside an immigration detention center in El Paso, Texas.
In a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement late Thursday night, "there are 12 individuals on a hunger strike — nine citizens of India and three from Cuba — in the custody of [ICE]." While ICE goes on to say that at least two of the nine men in detention have been on a hunger strike since late December of last year, "No hunger strikers housed in El Paso are currently being fed pursuant to court orders at this time."
Late last month, 11 immigrants were refusing food in protest over the length and conditions of their detention. Six were being force-fed. That number grew to nine, according to the El Paso Times and the Texas Monthly.
The case has drawn international attention. Last week, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern that the force-feeding of hunger strikers could be a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture. The American Medical Association also opposes the practice.
The change in treatment was first revealed in a closed-door court hearing Wednesday in El Paso held to discuss the status of two detained immigrants, Malkeet Singh and Jasvir Singh. A physician for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Dr. Michelle Iglesias, discussed the condition of the two immigrant detainees before U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama. Federal privacy laws required that testimony to remain private.
The judge then held an open court hearing in which Iglesias testified more generally about the force-feeding regimen and the long-term damage the body sustains in the process of starving.
In that open hearing, an attorney for the detainees, Louis Lopez, asked the judge for clarification about the proceedings and inadvertently let slip out "now that the tubes are out."
"Guaderrama quickly stopped him and said, 'You're not supposed to say that. That's the closed portion,' " the Texas Monthly reported.
It is not immediately clear whether Malkeet Singh and Jasvir Singh are related, as their surname is a near-universal last name for Sikh males. They are reportedly seeking asylum.