Thursday felt like it was colder than what New York City has experienced this winter. Maybe that’s because the climate talks in Paris are working, or perhaps we’re finally entering winter weather. Whatever the case may be, the slight chill didn’t stop members of DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving and allied groups from congregating in front of Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn.
The action, led by DRUM and supported by various organizations throughout the city, demanded that the current U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center detainees be a priority in the 2016 presidential elections. For the past eight weeks, over 1,000 detainees have participated in a hunger strike. Some of these men, primarily South Asian or African, have been detained for up to two years — a seemingly endless detention caused by problematic ICE policies.
According to DRUM, South Asian and African detainees are also more prone to facing retaliation and abuse from other detainees, and their bonds are set at substantially higher rates.
“Migrants came seeking safety in the U.S. but instead find themselves locked behind bars,” said Fahd Ahmed, executive director of DRUM. “There is an urgent crisis of asylum seekers being held in indefinite detention.”
There are several ICE detention centers around the country where a hunger strike is taking place.
There were also a handful of men at Thursday’s protest who were former detainees of the El Paso Detention Center in Texas. They were released a few weeks ago after their own hunger strike, but others who participated with them are still locked up and could possibly be deported to their respective countries, regardless of the threat of violence that hangs over their heads if they return there.
“We are here to support our brothers,” said Aminul Islam, a former El Paso Detention Center detainee whose words were translated into English by a DRUM organizer. “We came outside this office because the people running for election say they will do something in the distant future for immigrants and refugees. But the crisis exists now. We want to know your position on these hunger strikes and conditions.”
Ahmed explained that the reason for choosing Clinton’s campaign headquarters was out of convenience. It is the only headquarter for a Democratic candidate that is in New York City. He also was not hesitant to point out that many of the men are “escaping war, repression and economic deprivation caused as a result of our government’s military, foreign and economic policies.”
The lineup of speakers were interspersed with chants and calls to ending detention and deportation altogether: “Up, Up with Liberation / Down, Down with Deportation.”
Later in the evening, Bernie Sanders’ campaign staff released a statement in support of the hunger strike: “These aspiring Americans should not be criminalized, subjected to dehumanizing solitary confinement or indefinitely detained.”
Despite being a small and quick action that occurred around midday, a swift response from a presidential candidate’s campaign shows the power of people. And in times where it is increasingly difficult to find glimmers of hope, these small moments of power become that much more important.