ICE Releases Indian Asylum Seeker After 75-day Hunger Strike With 'Painful Force-feedings'

An Indian national who went on a 75-day hunger strike to protest his "unnecessary detention" under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency's custody has finally been released, according to his attorneys.

Gurjant Singh, 24, was released from the El Paso Processing Center in El Paso, Texas on Monday, shortly after ending his two-and-a-half month-long protest over fears that he might fall ill, according to a statement shared with Newsweek by the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee.

Singh's release comes just days after Ajay Kumar, 33, who Singh had started his hunger strike with along two other men, was released from ICE custody.

Both men said they had tried to flee India over fears of persecution, only to be apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border and detained by U.S. immigration authorities for a year.

Both Singh and Kumar were denied bond by an immigration judge who claimed they would both be "flight risks," according to the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee.

Frustrated that they were being refused release while their cases were being processed, the two men began their hunger strike, refusing to eat and eventually being "painfully force-fed" by ICE.

In a joint statement, Singh and Kumar said ICE's detention centers are like cages "that you would put an animal or a bird in."

"Being out, we can go wherever we want to go, eat whatever we want to eat. It's the freedom of being out," they said.

Still waiting to find out whether they will get to stay in the U.S., Singh and Kumar said: "We will follow all the rules and do what ICE tells us. We [will] prove we are not flight risks. Now with the freedom we have we will be starting a new life."

In a statement, Singh's attorney Jessie Miles said she was "thankful Gurjant is released and can now get the care that he needs to recover from his ordeal."

"I am still very saddened by the fact that he had to put himself through 75 days of a hunger strike to have a chance at a just outcome in his case," Miles said.

"He came to the U.S. seeking asylum and we have failed him every step of the way," she asserted. "He was denied a bond by an immigration judge known for bond denials. He was then denied asylum by the same judge, who is known for his denial of Indian asylum cases. Now he seeks justice at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which I hope he will finally receive."

"Until the injustices in the system are addressed, including ICE's policy of detention, immigration judges who pre-judge cases, and horrendous medical care, I think we will continue to see men like Gurjant who refuse to give up and who put their bodies on the line to draw attention to these injustices," Miles added. "There is no doubt that Gurjant is the hero of this story, and we all have a lot to learn from him."

The Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee also celebrated Singh and Kumar's efforts, asserting that the "sacrifice [they] made for their freedom as they endured 75 days on hunger strike in addition to several weeks of painful force-feedings could have been avoided if ICE had treated these men and the many thousands of people suffering in detention with dignity and respect."

"Detention is deadly and we know ICE intentionally inflicts harm towards people through prolonged incarceration, abuse, denial of due process and basic human rights," the group said, adding: "The indignities suffered by men and women in ICE detention are the root cause of the frequent hunger strikes that have taken place in detention spaces all over the country."

Indeed, hunger strikes at ICE detention centers have made headlines over the past year, with the immigration agency accused of allowing scores of detainees in Louisiana to be "subjected to excessive use of force and retaliation" over their participation in August hunger strikes.

As of early August, immigration advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants told Newsweek it had documented at least 1,396 people going on hunger strike across 18 U.S. immigration detention facilities.

ICE detention center
A guard escorts an immigrant detainee from his 'segregation cell' back into the general population at the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has released a man who participated in a 75-day hunger strike demanding his release. John Moore/Getty