Advocates call for release of migrant who spoke to media from solitary confinement

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Mexican accused of instigating hunger strike; others say he's being punished for talking to news media

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is demanding the release from solitary confinement of a Mexican detainee at the Otero County Processing Center whom it says is being punished for speaking to the news media.

Jesus Lorenzo Avila, a 35-year-old Mexican migrant who fled his country last year alleging political persecution, on July 18 was called out of his cell and placed in solitary confinement for allegedly organizing a hunger strike involving Indian detainees, according to the ACLU.

The four Indian detainees have since been transferred to a center in El Paso, Texas. The Indians are demanding that the denial of their asylum cases be reversed. At least three of them have been forced to hydrate through an IV drip, according to the Associated Press.

Avila was found guilty of the administrative transgressions on July 22 and sentenced to 25 additional days in solitary. ACLU lawyers, in a letter addressed to the warden of the facility and the assistant field office director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Avila doesn’t speak any common language with the Indians, so he couldn’t have organized the hunger strike.

The sentence came even though “your staff did not provide any evidence to substantiate the finding of guilty, nor did they provide him with any sort of due process that would have allowed him to rebut any evidence and call witnesses,” ACLU lawyers said, adding that Avila’s constitutional rights were violated.

ICE did not immediately comment on the allegations.

ACLU officials in Las Cruces, New Mexico, alleged that Avila is being targeted for his previous contact with the news media. Avila was featured in a May news story on Univision’s “Solitary Voices” project. In the segment, Avila details several instances of solitary confinement both at the El Paso Processing Center as well as at the Otero County Processing Center. He has spent a cumulative two months in solitary since his detention.

The migrant in January was hospitalized with a swollen eye after an altercation with guards. He said they beat him up and made homophobic comments; they said he’s the one who attacked them, according to Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert.

A web-based campaign has been started to gather signatures urging for Avila’s release from solitary confinement.

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