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RICHWOOD, LA—Migrants detained at the Richwood Detention Center outside Monroe, Louisiana entered the fourth day of a hunger strike protesting conditions at the facility and inaction by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic Thursday. Immigrant rights advocates in Louisiana and Mississippi called for the release of the hunger strikers and all migrants detained by ICE after receiving calls from detainees reporting that unsanitary conditions had led sixty detainees to begin a hunger strike over the weekend.

F, a detainee in Richwood Detention Center, said in a recorded call that when he and other detainees went on hunger strike guards turned off the televisions that usually broadcast news and “ICE came and told us that the news is all lies…to not believe the news.”

F explained further that sixty out of the sixty-four detainees in his bunker are on hunger strike to demand their immediate freedom before the outbreak takes hold because, “what they’re going to do is put us in quarantine and whoever dies, dies…because here in this detention center they have no ability to take care of all of us…Here there are just four nurses and a doctor who visits once a week.” The recording, transcript, and translation are available below. 

“It’s unconscionable that ICE keeps thousands of people who came to this country fleeing violence, to be with their families or simply seeking a better life caged in appalling conditions in Louisiana jails and prisons on any given day. That detained migrants have decided the best choice for their health is to go on hunger strike demonstrates how unfit ICE is to be responsible for the health and wellbeing of any human being,” said Rocio Aguilar, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers (a project of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice). “Every day I hear from members of our community who are terrified that the lives of their loved ones in detention are at the mercy of ICE’s negligence and disregard for human life. ICE must grant humanitarian parole to the hunger strikers and all migrants in detention before the COVID-19 pandemic turns into an unprecedented public health catastrophe within their facilities.” 

Previous hunger strikes erupted last week at three ICE detention centers in New Jersey after a guard was positively diagnosed with COVID-19, and dozens of organizations across the country have demanded the immediate release of detainees from ICE custody to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Several of Representative Thompson’s colleagues in the House of Representatives have explicitly called for the release of ICE detainees, including House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler and six more congressional representatives from New York, the current epicenter of the 

COVID-19 crisis, as well as Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Seattle, the nation’s first major urban center with large numbers of coronavirus deaths. 

The humanitarian crisis denounced by the detainees in Richwood Detention Center is entirely preventable, since the vast majority of ICE detainees in Mississippi and Louisiana are already eligible for humanitarian parole. ICE officials in the region began systematically denying parole requests in 2018, dropping parole grant rates from over 90% ten years ago to around 1% in 2018 and 2019. In September, after thousands of Louisiana detainees sued ICE for failing to follow its own parole regulations, a federal judge ordered ICE to resume processing and granting parole to asylum-seekers in the region’s detention centers. 

Click here to see the letter to Representative Bennie Thompson requesting his support for the release of ICE detainees, signed by Mississippi immigrant families and coordinated by the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity along with Jackson-area organizations. Click here to listen to the audio recording of F from March 25th. The full transcript and translation are provided below. 

About The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice

The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) was founded as a workers’ rights and racial justice response to the man-made disaster that came along with Hurricane Katrina. As politicians and employers attempted to use the storm to pit communities of color against each other, a group of Black and immigrant workers came together from public housing developments, FEMA trailer parks, day labor corners, and labor camps across Louisiana to build a new freedom movement: multi- racial; committed to racial, gender, and immigrant justice; and dedicated to building power at the intersection of race and the economy.

For more than a decade, the members of NOWCRJ have continued to fight for dignity and justice, winning higher wages, better working conditions and pro-worker policies. 




Nosotros la verdad tenemos una petición: es la liberación de nosotros. ¿Y por qué? Por la situación que está pasando a nivel mundial. Se están muriendo las personas con coronavirus. En los mismos Estados Unidos, que es una potencia mundial, primera potencia mundial, están colapsados los hospitales. Nosotros aquí estamos vulnerables. ¿Me entiendes? 

Nosotros aquí, si entra un oficial, nos pega el coronavirus, ¿y usted cree que a nosotros los inmigrantes, el trato que nos han dado, durante todo este tiempo, es un trato adecuado? A nadie, a ningún americano le van a quitar una mascarilla para ponerselo a un inmigrante. Esto quiere decir que nosotros nos vamos a morir. ¿Entiendes? Y el ICE no nos garantiza ningún tipo de seguridad. 

Lo que nosotros necesitamos, para no hablar demasiado, es la libertad de nosotros, porque esto es un hecho de humanidad. Esto no se trata de un trato de inmigración, no se trata de una fianza, de un parole, de un asilo. Se trata de que nosotros somos seres humanos. Nosotros no somos animales. 

Y todo el mundo está preocupado y todo el mundo afuera se protege, y nosotros estamos vulnerables. ¿Quién nos protege a nosotros? ¿Quién se preocupa por nosotros? Nosotros tenemos familia. Mamá, papá, hermanos, hijas, hijos. La familia afuera está preocupada por nosotros. 

Nosotros estamos plantados. Tenemos tres días que no vamos al comedor. Ahorita, en medio de la represión me imagino que la propia prisión nos tienen los televisores apagados. El ICE vino y dice que las noticias son mentira. Que no le paremos a las noticias. Y en estos momentos ahorita, no sé qué hora es, ¿qué hora es? las cuatro, tres cuarenta de la tarde, los televisores continúan apagados, porque como no queremos ir a comer, ellos nos están presionando con los televisores apagados, no salimos a yarda, estamos aquí en el bunker camina para allá, camina para acá, no podemos hacer más nada. 

Y así están los otros bunkers. Lo que pasa es que hay aquí, habemos 287 personas. Es lo que habemos aquí en Richwood. Ahorita aquí habemos sesenta y cuatro. La verdad, la verdad, hay sesenta en este búnker. Cuatro personas sí están comiendo. 

Nosotros, de salud, hasta ahorita estamos bien. Lo que no queremos es que llegue el virus, nos infecte a toditos, para entonces después buscar por una solución. Porque lo que van a hacer es que nos van a meter en cuarentena y el que se va a morir se va a morir. Porque aquí en este centro no hay las condiciones para atendernos a todos nosotros. Aquí lo que hay son cuatro enfermeras y un doctor que viene una vez a la semana. 


The truth is that we have one request: our freedom. Why? Because of the situation that is happening on a global scale. People are dying from coronavirus. Even in the United States, a world power, a first world power, the hospitals are collapsed. Here we are vulnerable, you understand? 

Here for us, if an officer comes in, gives us coronavirus, do you think that for us immigrants, the treatment they’ve given us during this whole time, is an adequate treatment? They’re not going to take a face mask from anyone, from any American, to put it on an immigrant. That means we are going to die. You understand? And ICE doesn’t guarantee us any kind of safety. 

What we need, to not go on too long, is our freedom, because this is about humanity. This isn’t about an immigration treaty, this isn’t about a bond, or a parole, or an asylum case. This is about the fact that we are human beings. We aren’t animals. 

And everyone is worried, and everyone outside is protecting themselves, and we are vulnerable. Who is protecting us? Who is worried about us? We have families. Mom, dad, siblings, daughters, sons. Our families outside are worried about us. 

We’re standing our ground here. We haven’t gone to the dining hall for three days. Right now, in the midst of the repression, I’m guessing it’s the prison that has the televisions turned off. ICE came and told us that the news is all lies. To not believe the news. And right now, I don’t know what time it is – what time is it? At four, three forty in the afternoon, the televisions are still turned off, because since we don’t want to go eat, they’re putting pressure on us by keeping the televisions off, we aren’t taken out to the yard, we’re here in the bunker, walking over here, walking over there, we have nothing else to do. 

All the bunkers are like that. Here there are 287 people. That’s how many are here in Richwood. And right now there are 64 of us here. In fact, there are sixty here in this bunker [on hunger strike]. Four people are eating. 

Our health up until now is okay. What we don’t want is for the virus to show up and infect us all, and only then to look for a solution. Because what they’re going to do then is they’re going to put us all under quarantine and whoever’s gonna die is gonna die. Because here in this facility they don’t have the means to take care of all of us. Here all they’ve got is four nurses and a doctor who comes once a week. 

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