Anywhere from 50 to 100 detainees at the sprawling Port Isabel Processing Center in Los Fresos, Texas, stopped eating last Wednesday in an effort to draw attention to extended detention that they say violates their right to due process.
One of the detainees on hunger strike - Rama Carty - spoke to the Texas Observer by phone on Friday about how he has been detained by ICE for more than 13 months.
(Click here to listen to the interview)
"It's unconstitutional. It's unjust," Carty said. "We're held well past any reasonable time under the law, or just any reasonable time, period."
Carty fell under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008 after he served two years in prison for what he says is a wrongful drug conviction. He spent time in detention centers in Maine and New Hampshire before being sent to Texas in December. In March, he came across an article in USA Today about a new Amnesty International report on how thousands of immigrants are detained for months or years without any meaningful judicial review of whether they should be released.
"If immigration removal is not reasonably foreseeable at all, then detention, in essence, shouldn't exist," Carty said, citing a Supreme Court precedent for cases like his.
Carty turns 39 next week and has lived in the United States since he was a year old. His parents are Haitian, but he was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo while they were working there. Neither country will accept him, so he languishes in detention in the country he calls home.
"I am a U.S. citizen from a cultural standpoint," Carty told the Observer.
He wants a chance to argue he is a citizen from a legal standpoint as well. He said ICE mishandled his mother's application for naturalization, and he should be given an opportunity to be considered a citizen. But, like many in the 1,200-bed facility, he said he lacks access to legal assistance.
"We are told we have lawyers available thru pro-bono associations but that's not the truth," Carty said of the overwhelmed legal aid offices that mostly focus on political asylum cases. "The amount of effective assistance of counsel is grossly insufficient," he said.
Carty says he thinks the hunger strike will continue to grow. The strikers' demands include a meeting with Dora Schriro, the newly appointed special advisor on detention and removal for the Department of Homeland Security.
This story originally appeared on the Texas Observer website.