[Note: My dad, Nick, has a weekly column in the small-town border newspaper Mid-Valley Town Crier. Here is one of his recent columns. Some of you may have heard about the recent hunger strike taking place in the immigration detention center here. More of his columns can be found online at the website of the Texas Civil Rights Review. --JB]
Over the last three weeks, there has been an attempt to get a story out to the public about the Port Isabel Detention Center: there has been a hunger strike going on. One of the problems is that the authorities, ICE and facility directors, have been denying that any serious discontent exists there. However, a number of activists in the Valley -- and I am happy to say basically young people -- have continued to be concerned and have been reaching the press various ways and speaking to groups about what they know.
The hunger strike story has surfaced a bit in the regional newspapers, and a public rally I attended was covered on Channel Five, although to my knowledge Channel Five has not followed up by visiting Port Isabel to interview detainees.
Information also circulated at the founding event of the new Amnesty International student chapter at South Texas College in Weslaco; the forum drew about 100 attendees, with students, teachers, and visitors attending.
The energetic new Amnesty club invited Ann Cass of Proyecto Azteca to speak on the border wall and invited Juan Guerra, the previous Willacy County district attorney who indicted State Senator Eddie Lucio and Vice-president Dick Cheney for profiting improperly on the construction and operation of taxpayer-supported private prisons. (Incarceration is a huge business, involving giant corporations, public money, and many slick consultants. Guerra’s indictments did not get very far and his opponents drummed him out of office last year, but he is a convincing speaker, has the facts needed and certainly seems on the right trail.)
At the Amnesty event, members of the Student Farmworker Alliance and Southwest Workers’ Union told the audience about the hunger strike and some of the issues which provoked it. The activists reported that there is a rolling hunger strike going on now…some taking turns refusing food so that they do not get too weak in the process. Anayanse Garza, a spokesperson for the activists, has spoken to several inmates and estimated that 100 to 200 have participated in the hunger strike.
One person she spoke to said he was retaliated against for the hunger strike, basically put in the “hole” for not eating, even though he felt weak and should have been monitored by the infirmary. He has been at Port Isabel for two years. The activists interviewed four detainees and got many little stories of abuse: forcing the prisoners to stand in the sun in the recreation area when shade is obviously available, serving undercooked meat, delaying in answering written requests, and more serious things like roughing up prisoners and not providing proper medical attention.
Most of these people detained have not committed a crime and should not be in these centers. The U.S. holds 440,000 immigrants in prisons, often keeping them indefinitely until some paperwork requirement is straightened out. Even though fewer undocumented immigrants have been entering recently, there are three times more detainees than ten years ago. In summary: the centers are profitable, are run horribly, and are causing growing discontent.
In other news…
Since conditions are deteriorating in Iraq again and some are saying we cannot leave on schedule, more comparisons with Vietnam have been in the news. Hearing this week that Sgt. John Russell, on his third cycle in Iraq, shot five fellow American soldiers, I emailed Darrell Muckleroy, an STC historian and Vietnam vet, and asked if this reminded him of Vietnam where there was also such anger on the part of the soldiers.
“When I read about this tragedy in Iraq, I was immediately reminded of an incident in which I myself very nearly became “collateral damage” in a fragging. (The use of a fragmentation grenade by one GI to attack another.)
“I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, very much like the victims of Sgt. Russell. I had returned from a mission in the field and had just finished the debriefing by the battalion G-2 (intelligence) officer and had to walk through the First Sergeant’s (top enlisted man) office to exit the building.
“As I and a colleague went through his office, the sargeant opened his desk drawer and suddenly jumped up from his chair staring into the drawer white as a ghost. Startled, we looked over at him and saw his problem—a fragmentation grenade had been rigged to go off when he opened the drawer -- but luckily the wire attached to the pin had come loose. We never found out who planted it. (This was on one of the most secure bases in Southeast Asia, so there was absolutely no chance this was placed by an enemy sapper—there was no doubt it was a GI).