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Protestors Demand Investigation into Migrant’s Mysterious Death

Francisca Porchas (left) and Sandra Cornejo speak at a rally for Eloy hunger strikers.
Francisca Porchas (left) and Sandra Cornejo speak at a rally for Eloy hunger strikers.

Immigrant rights advocates are calling for an investigation into the “horrible, racist conditions” and alleged excessive force that may have caused the deaths of two men at the Eloy Detention Facility in Arizona.

Grassroots organization Puente led a rally outside the ICE building in Phoenix on June 15 to demand the Department of Justice lead an independent investigation into the confirmed death of one migrant and the suspected death of another. Advocates and family members also stood in solidarity with the 200 Eloy detainees hunger striking to protest the deaths and conditions at the facility.

On May 20, 2015, Mexican national José de Jesús Deniz-Sahagún, 31, was found dead in his cell. ICE issued a statement saying there were no signs of injury on the body. “[But] we got a lot of anonymous letters from inside saying that he was beaten brutally, that he was maced, that he was stripped down naked and thrown into solitary confinement,” says Francisca Porchas, Puente’s organizing director.

Another detainee whose name is unknown was reportedly tased by guards, screamed for mercy, had paper towels stuffed into his mouth, and was dragged, unconscious, to solitary confinement. He has not been seen since.

“They’re being treated like animals and not human beings. They’re tired of the racism. They’re tired of being treated with brutality.” Francisca Porchas

The suspicious incidents lit the fuse on a powder-keg situation at Eloy. Detainees had long complained that staff denied them basic medical care and access to attorneys, gave them chemical-tasting water that triggered stomach pains, and forced them to work long hours for $1 a day.

“They are protesting the horrible, racist conditions under which they have to live inside the detention center,” Porchas says. “They’re being treated like animals and not human beings.”

Last Saturday at 9:45 a.m., about 200 detainees launched a hunger strike. Guards responded by locking the men outside in 100-plus-degree heat for five hours with no water.

Sandra Cornejo, whose father is one of the strikers, witnessed the incident along with other families and protestors. “There were men fainting,” she says. “There were children out there watching their dads outside in the sun fainting, begging for water.”

When the men were let back inside at 4:30 p.m., “some of them yelled out to us that they were being threatened with three months of solitary confinement,” Porchas says.

Since then, guards have denied detainees phone or in-person contact with their families. “I can’t get a phone call from my dad,” Cornejo says. “I want to hear from my dad, and I want to make sure every man in there, who’s a father, who’s not a criminal, is OK.”

Sign a petition to tell Phoenix ICE Field Director Albert Carter to begin negotiations with the hunger strikers and Puente.