Dozens of detainees at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center concluded a four-day hunger strike Monday, according to a news release from the Immigrant Defense Project.
The hunger strike was started partly in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests that have been taking place throughout the country and partly in response to conditions inside the facility that some detainees say do not adequately protect them from the coronavirus.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Tuesday the strike had stopped, but said only 21 detainees made hunger strike claims to staff. The federal agency said 864 meals went unclaimed from Thursday through Sunday, with 35 meals discarded at the breakfast service on Monday.
ICE continued to cast doubt on the motives behind the hunger strike, saying in a news release one of the strikers said he was protesting the presence of soy in his food while a number “all said they were just not interested in eating their facility provided meals.”
Detainees have been holding hunger strikes at Mesa Verde since early April to demand greater COVID-19 prevention measures be taken. Last week, detainees said they wanted ICE to stop transferring individuals from prison and jails into detention in addition to demanding Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra lead an independent investigation into conditions at ICE facilities.
ICE says no positive COVID-19 cases have been identified at Mesa Verde, although 838 detainees had tested positive in facilities across the country as of Monday.
On Monday, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity released a video which appears to show Mesa Verde detainees speaking out in support of the hunger strike. The video also says strikers demand an end to police murders of black people.
ICE has tried to delegitimize the strikers' cause by claiming outside entities were coercing detainees into striking and some strikers did not appear to know why they were not eating. ICE said an anonymous source told Mesa Verde staff an attorney instructed a detainee to initiate a hunger strike.
Both detainees and attorneys representing those incarcerated at Mesa Verde have spoken out against ICE’s statements.
“ICE always puts forth very inaccurate info to defend their own organization,” Asif Qazi, a Mesa Verde detainee from Bangladesh who participated in the strike, said in a statement provided to The Californian. “I think they believe a lot of made up information in order to derail or discourage the cause of liberation. We’re doing this on our own, and no one coerced us to do this.”
He went on to say detainees were prompted to begin the hunger strike in response to two deaths that occurred in ICE facilities in California, one of which happened at Mesa Verde. He also said despite ICE’s claims their measures have kept Mesa Verde safe from the coronavirus, “it’s really not safe at all.”