A federal judge on Monday authorized the force-feeding of a group of immigration detainees in Florida who have been on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks.
All 10 men who began the hunger strike Dec. 2 at the Krome Service Processing Center are from Bangladesh. As of Monday, seven still refused to eat, and they entered U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga's courtroom in wheelchairs.
Altonaga previously granted a petition from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security permitting involuntary blood draws and other medical procedures to monitor the detainees' health.
On Monday, the judge authorized Krome medical staff to restrain and force-feed the detainees through nasal-gastric tubes if it becomes necessary to save their lives.
The detainees have other ways of protesting their ongoing detention, Altonaga said.
"They are not likely to survive without compelled feeding," she said.
Speaking through an interpreter, Abdul Awal, 21, asked how long they might be subjected to the involuntary feedings.
"How long are they going to force-feed us? We are willing to die," he said.
Krome's staff doctor, Dalian Caraballo, testified that the men are not in any immediate danger, but if they persist with the hunger strike, they risk severe and permanent health complications.
Each of the seven men who have continued the hunger strike has lost up to 15 percent of their body weight since Dec. 2, Caraballo said.
The administration of liquid nutritional supplements through nasal-gastric tubes would be more comfortable for the men than transferring them to a hospital to feed them intravenously, she said.
No attorney spoke for the detainees. Altonaga allowed them to question Caraballo and ICE Assistant Field Officer Joel Mikelson directly, but she did not permit them to complain about their immigration cases or their detention as she is not an immigration judge.
Awal said conditions in Bangladesh forced him and the other detainees to seek opportunities in the U.S., and they risk death if they are deported.
"We would rather die here," Awal said.
All the detainees were arrested in Hidalgo, Texas, in 2014 and 2015 while attempting to enter the U.S.