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Immigrants Seeking Asylum Are On A Hunger Strike At SoCal Detention Center

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Twenty-six men being held at an immigration detention center in Adelanto are refusing to eat or drink to protest their imprisonment. The 25 detainees are all seeking asylum in the U.S., some from anti-gay laws and other from religious persecution, the L.A. Times reports. They come from countries like Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and they have not eaten since November 4. An anonymous ICE official told the Times that the men are being monitored by medical staff, and that ICE agents have met with the strikers to discuss their issues. The list of demands includes access to better food and medical and dental care, and to be treated with respect, according to Think Progress.

Mohammed Zakir Hosain, 28, left Bangladesh in 2014 after he said members of the party in power had beaten him numerous times for being a member of a different party. He first went to South America, spent several weeks detained in both Panama and Mexico, and then requested political asylum from a U.S. Border Patrol agent in San Ysidro. He has now been in the detention center for a year. Hosain could have been sent to New York, where he has family, and then gone to immigration court, but has instead been forced to wait in Adelanto.

After six months, an immigration judge must set a bond for detainees at a hearing. ICE and immigration judges may decide to release detainees based on a number of factors, including flight risk, past criminal history and if they have any ties in the U.S. Hosain's bond was first set at $48,000, then reduced to $25,000 after an appeal from Hosain's lawyer. Hosain, however, has no idea where he's going to get the money.

"We are not criminals," he said. "We just want protection."

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Ibrahim Karim, 33, told the Times that he's ready to die in Adelanto. He's from Ghana, and left after he became a Jehovah's Witness and his Muslim village attacked him. He cannot afford a lawyer, and his next court date is November 25. He is concerned he won't be able to pay his bond, as the minimum bond is generally still $1,500.

Victoria Mena, who works with Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, told the Time that refugees "shouldn't have to buy their freedom." She thinks that ICE keeps detainees in detention centers for so long because they're trying to keep their bed full because of a 2009 congressional mandate. Despite objections from several lawmakers, the facility—which is run by a Florida-based private contractor called Geo Group—was recently expanded by 650 beds. Other watchdog groups have accused ICE of having "lock-up" quotas, according to the Victorville Daily Press.

The group recently produced a short film about the center called Adelanto's 10,000 Cages, alleging negligence and abuse. In 2012, a Mexican detainee died from pneumonia, and an inspection from the Department of Homeland Security determined that his death could have been prevented had he received better medical care.