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Hunger Strike at Passaic County Jail

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  • ummyakoub
    A Few Hundred Yards Away 9/11 detainees at the Passaic County Jail conduct a hunger strike to protest alleged abuses. The NJHRDC is supporting their effort,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2003
      A Few Hundred Yards Away

      9/11 detainees at the Passaic County Jail conduct a hunger strike to
      protest alleged abuses. The NJHRDC is supporting their effort, and
      demonstrating outside the jail.

      On a humid July afternoon in Downtown Paterson, amidst a thin, moving
      crowd of shoppers and pedestrians, a small group of about 8-10
      protestors stood across the entrance of Passaic county jail. They
      held up signs that read, "Support the Hunger Strike," "Free Detainees
      Now!", and "Stop Civil Rights Abuses".

      They handed out flyers to a few curious passersby who slowed down to
      assess the situation. The flyers explained the background of their
      protest on one side and offered a "Know your legal rights" crash
      course on the other. A few police officers guarded the entrance of
      the jail, watching the protestors with a cautious calm.

      It was Tuesday, July 22nd, the second day of a picket campaign that
      the members of its organizers, the NJ Civil Rights Defense Committee
      (NJHRDC), hope will continue to grow in numbers until their demands
      are met. At the center of these demands is the release, or at least
      an improvement in the conditions, of two middle-aged immigrant
      detainees who have languished behind the walls of this jail for over
      a year. The men, Nigel Maccado, 54, and Hemnaouth Mohabir, 41, may
      not have had much in common when they first arrived in the United
      States, but they do now.

      Both men are natives of far away lands- Maccado is from India and
      Mohabir is Guyanese- who now find themselves detained in Passaic
      County Jail for an undetermined length of time. Both face deportation
      for crimes they committed many years ago. And now, both are on a
      hunger strike to protest their alleged mistreatment at the facility.

      For over 30 days, according to his supporters at the NJHRDC, Nigel
      Maccado has refused solid food, subsisting only on water and juice.
      Hemnauth Mohabir joined him 10 days later, and now has been on the
      hunger strike for almost three weeks. Nigel Maccado, NJCRDC says, has
      a heart condition, and is being denied medication. Neither man is
      allowed any contact or visits from their families.

      During its press conference on Friday, July 18th, at the corner of
      Grand and Hamilton Streets in Paterson, the NJCRDC referred to a
      letter it claims to have received from Mohabir. The letter, dated
      June, 24, 2003, alleged physical and verbal abuse by the corrections
      officers, shakedowns accompanied by dogs, and a poor diet being
      offered to inmates, among other things. Mohabir protested once before
      by going on a hunger strike.

      For their part, the officials at the Bureau of Immigration and
      Customs Enforcement, as well as the Passaic County Sheriff's
      Department, have denied the allegations in recent interviews given to
      the local media. They have routinely maintained that the jail's
      conditions meet state and federal standards.

      Two weeks ago, in an interview with The Herald News on July 11th, the
      spokesman for the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, William Maer,
      referred to the hunger strike as a "cheap publicity stunt." In that
      interview, Mr. Maer also disregarded the NJHRDC's claims that the
      hunger strikers were losing weight. "In the past, it has appeared
      that individuals on similar hunger strikes have sneaked food and had
      little or no weight loss," Mr. Maer explained.

      The Herald News interview can be found at:(North Jersey Media Group)

      In a telephone interview on July 25th, Mr. Maer stood by his earlier
      comments. He said he was unable to answer specific questions
      regarding the detainees' health and weight loss, but said that both
      detainees are screened everyday, and that they are "fine." Regarding
      Nigel Maccado's heart condition and alleged denial of medication, Mr.
      Maer said that Maccado's health is being monitored everyday, and that
      he "receives all the medication that he needs."

      Recently, officials at the Bureau of Immigration and Customs
      Enforcement in Washington blocked a privacy waiver signed by both
      detainees that authorized the Sheriff's Department to make their
      medical records public.

      Maccado and Mohabir's hunger strike is not the first of its kind at
      this facility. It is, however, the longest in the jail's recent
      history. There have been similar allegations of abuse, resulting in
      similar strikes by other detainees, in previous months. These
      included a hunger strike that lasted over week by six detainees back
      in January of 2003, resulting in a partial victory for five of those
      detainees who were moved to Hudson County Jail, which is said to have
      better conditions than Passaic County Jail. However, one of the
      detainees, a Palestinian named Abdel-Muhti, was moved to York County
      Jail in Pennsylvania and placed in solitary confinement for months.

      The months following the September 11th attacks brought a stream of
      men, mostly of Middle Eastern and South Asian decent, through the
      gates of Passaic county jail. The jail, like several others in the
      country, has been under an Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGA
      contract with the INS which allows it to house federal immigration
      detainees as they await processing of their cases). In exchange, the
      Passaic County Jail receives approximately $77 per day for each
      detainee it houses (OIG Report, 6/03). Passaic County jail housed
      more detainees in the wake of September 11th than any other facility
      in the country.

      With the swelled numbers of detainees came allegations of
      mistreatment and, at times, physical and verbal abuse. A few
      detainees have carried out hunger strikes in the past to protest
      their conditions.

      In response to increasing public and civil rights groups' concerns
      about detentions and the conditions under which the detainees were
      living, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG)
      conducted a review to examine the living conditions of the
      immigration detainees at various holding facilities between March
      2002 and March 2003. The review acknowledged some practices and
      conditions at the Passaic Jail that did not meet the INS standards,
      as well as a criticism of the Newark Department of INS for not
      providing sufficient oversight of the detainees. However, the
      negligence addressed by the review was attributed to the rapid influx
      of the detainees and the confusion it created in the months following
      9/11. Click here for more info: Special Report.

      The NJHRDC has taken issue with that part of the report, as well as
      to its longstanding opposition of the Passaic Jail's IGA contract
      with the Department of Homeland Security. The NJHRDC say that it is
      not a thing of the past as is implied in the report, that it is
      taking place now. They called on the OIG for an immediate
      investigation into the abuses that, they say, are still taking place
      in detention facilities, including Passaic County jail. Click here
      for more info: Here

      "The Passaic County Jail is a 50 year old facility", said William
      Maer. Although "it is certainly in need of certain upgrades, the men
      and women who work here work tirelessly to provide adequate service
      to its inmates".

      The men and women who volunteer with the NJHRDC disagree. They hold
      on to their picket signs hoping to inform the local community of the
      constitution and the civil rights that they say are being violated "a
      few hundred yards away".

      "The response of the community has really been positive", said one of
      the activists, John Sargis, as he handed a flier to a woman on that
      second day of pickets. One could not help but notice the occasional
      gestures of support coming from the passing cars-- a smile or a nod
      here, a wave or a honk there-- but there was also the look of
      apprehension and uncertainty on many faces, especially those who
      seemed to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian decent.

      "I would tell them not to be afraid, to speak out for their rights",
      Jannette Gabriel, another member of the group said. "We have a system
      in place to inform people of their civil rights, and to offer help to
      anyone who needs it". Click here for more info.

      The outcome of the current hunger strike remains to be seen.
      Meanwhile, life goes on as usual on the noisy, cramped streets of
      Downtown Paterson, New Jersey. Hundreds of people and cars pass by
      daily, glancing curiously at a group of protestors standing across
      the street from a group of uniformed police officers. Awaiting its
      fate is the quiet turbulence- one that has been caused by a hunger
      strike underway behind the solemn walls of Passaic County jail-
      only "a few hundred yards away."




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