York County Prison immigration detainees on COVID-19 hunger strike

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County Prison Monday, June 10, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

A number of federal immigration detainees being held in York County Prison have gone on a hunger strike, demanding their release in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an advocacy group.

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office has confirmed "several" detainees have "refused food" but would not answer specific questions, including how many detainees are involved.

The group Movement of Immigrant Leaders (MILPA) posted a statement it identified as being from  a man who was recently arrested and jailed there.

"We are like sitting ducks" for becoming sick with COVID-19, according to the unidentified man's statement.

"In my block there are older gentlemen, there are people with high (blood) pressure, diabetes, who are still here," according to the statement. "We're on strike — we're not eating. We want people to get out on probation ... and released. We're chickens in a chicken coop here. ..."

The statement alleges that neither corrections officers nor nurses wear masks or gloves.

The MILPA posting states there are concerns the coronavirus could easily spread in the prison and  that detainees fear they would not receive proper medical treatment if they contract COVID-19.

A number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees held in York County Prison have had bail set, but the detainee whose report MILPA made public on Facebook over the weekend states that bail-bonding services don't want to work with immigrants.

"There are people here for parking tickets, driving without a license," according to the statement. "(T)hey have American kids, they've been here for half their lives. ... Many of us have families who are being destroyed."

ICE spokesman Adrian Smith sent the following statement to The York Dispatch on Monday:

"Several detainees in ICE custody at York County Prison ... have recently refused meals, but still have access to food via the commissary. Due to privacy rules, we are prohibited from discussing individuals engaged in a hunger strike by name or specifics of their case absent the detainee’s consent. ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. ICE does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers. ICE explains the negative health effects of not eating to our detainees, and they are under close medical observation by ICE or contract medical providers. For their health and safety, ICE carefully monitors the food and water intake of those detainees identified as being on a hunger strike."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania recently sued York County Prison and county prisons in Pike and Clinton counties on behalf of 13 detainees who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Read more about the lawsuit here:

More:'Humanitarian crisis': ACLU sues, says York County Prison puts ICE detainees at risk from coronavirus

York County Prison Warden Clair Doll said recently that the prison is monitoring staff members, inmates and detainees and quarantining those with flu-like symptoms and fevers.

More:Warden: York prison monitoring staff, inmates; quarantining as necessary

York County spokesman Mark Walters on Monday declined comment about MILPA's allegations and referred all questions to ICE officials.

More:Hygiene, cleanliness conditions for ICE detainees in York prison concern advocates

MILPA coordinator Desi Burnette did not return several messages seeking comment last week and on Monday.

MILPA has started an online petition called "Release Our Loved Ones" that asks state and federal authorities to release detainees age 50 and older, asks ICE stop arresting and imprisoning undocumented immigrants and has a number of other demands.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.