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Guards pepper-sprayed and restrained asylum-seekers by the neck for protesting their detention

Image credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Detained people at a privately operated Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility say guards pepper-sprayed them and placed their knees on their necks after engaging in an act of civil disobedience in protest of their ongoing detention during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Mother Jones reports. The facility, LaSalle Corrections Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana, has had 65 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two guards have died after becoming sick.


Two asylum-seekers said detainees were refusing to leave the recreation area when guards violently sprayed them as they were in a sitting position. “Another Cameroonian asylum seeker who has been detained for nearly 18 months, whom I’ll call Wilfred because he did not give permission to use his name, reported that he still had bruises and trouble swallowing after guards ‘climbed’ onto his neck,” the report said.

Mother Jones reports that ICE confirmed the violence against detainees, claiming they were sprayed “only after a group of detainees refused repeated commands from facility staff and only after numerous attempts to verbally deescalate the situation were unsuccessful.” So … pepper-sprayed them for non-violently protesting their detention in this death trap called a detention center, just as detained people had said.

As the report notes, “Hundreds of detained immigrants and asylum seekers have been exposed to pepper spray on at least a dozen occasions since late March,” including as many as 60 detainees at a Texas facility in March. San Antonio Express-News reported detained people had refused to return to their beds in protest against their detention, “panicking in recent days after learning of the virus from TV news inside the facility and grew concerned not only over the screening of arriving migrants and contract workers, but also of a few migrants who were exhibiting coronavirus-like symptoms,” the report said. Like in Louisiana, guards pepper-sprayed them too.

“Unlike with deaths in ICE custody, the agency does not have a policy of disclosing uses of force, including the use of chemical agents, so it’s possible that some incidents have gone unreported,” Mother Jones reported. That guards would restrain detained people by placing their knees on their necks should be criminal at any time; that they’re doing it as they also know perfectly well that there’s a national outcry against this very kind of physical act of violence is vile.

“It’s like they have us kidnapped here,” a Cuban asylum-seeker told Mother Jones. “That might sound a bit harsh, but it’s like being kidnapped. It sometimes seems to us like they’re running a business here.” The asylum-seeker is on the dot about that: USA Today reported last year that following impeached president Donald Trump’s election, “LaSalle Corrections quickly opened six more facilities in Louisiana. His detention centers hold more than 7,000 immigration detainees.”

“The use of private prisons to detain immigrants is not new, but the business has exploded under Trump,” the report continued. “At least 24 immigration detention centers and more than 17,000 beds were added in the past three years to the sprawling detention system run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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