FLORENCE, AZ-Throughout the history of resistance to the Eloy Detention Center, today’s rally held outside the facility will go down as one of the largest according to organizers from Puente Arizona, a migrant rights group. As part of the School of the Americas Watch annual gathering, activists from several countries descended near the detention center to call attention to what they and Puente call the deadliest migrant prison in the US. Fourteen deaths in 13 years have been documented by Puente and 150 nationwide. This action came after another hunger strike at another immigration detention center in Pennsylvania-Berks Family Center-also drew attention to conditions inside immigration prisons.
In 2015, Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva called on the US Department of Justice to investigate alleged violence at the prison. That call came at a time when Jose de Jesus Deniz-Sahagun was found dead on May 20, 2015 in an isolation cell in Eloy. His autopsy reported the death as an asphyxiation, but troubling to the public is that his own sock was found to be the weapon. His family pushed for an investigation after refusing to accept Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) version of the death. Supporters who are investigating the death criticized the over 30 minutes in lag time for emergency medical services to respond to Deniz-Sahagun and the “inadequate mental health treatment offered this man who was deemed at risk to kill himself.” They called for the release of video footage of the incident, an independent review of the the autopsy, and an investigation into “abuse, and medical mental health neglect rampant at this facility.”
Others detained at Eloy reported another death of someone they witnessed being tased to death by Eloy guards that same year.
Concerns for the safety of those in the transgender community detained at Eloy continue. In 2014, Mari Chuy Leal Gamino, a transgender woman was detained at Eloy and reported being raped by her cellmate. Ongoing protests outside of Eloy have called for the security and “minimal levels of safety and dignity” at the privately run facility owned by Community Corrections of America (CCA). According to Center for American Progress in 2014, LGBT detainees are 15 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than their heterosexual counterparts.
In 2015 about 200 men and 60 women at Eloy went on hunger strike to denounce the deaths and violence plus the conditions and treatment at the facility. Hunger strikers reported retaliation for their act of protest. Two were deported, and three were placed in segregation. Families reported that phone calls and visits were cancelled for days. Hungers strikers said that they were locked out of Eloy under the sun and over 100 degree heat without food or water on Day 1 of the strike. Officials denied that a hunger strike was in place.
Tonight’s action was joined by hundreds who came to Arizona to participate in the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) annual gathering, this year for the first time moving from Fort Benning, Georgia to the Mexico/US Border. SOAW organizers said the objective was to also draw attention to the root causes of migration in addressing the militarization and violence perpetuated and finance in Latin American countries by the US.
The rally began with music and speakers, but unique to this action, a street theater performance of formerly detained migrants demonstrated the various kinds of abuses alleged at Eloy. Rigoberto Rodriguez who had been detained in 2014, talked of his experience with medical neglect when he was transferred to Eloy with a swollen prostate after months of being told by Eloy medical staff to “just drink water.” After he eventually received surgery he reported only receiving three days of medication and no post-surgery care: