(Reuters) – A group of immigrant fathers, recently reunified with their sons and detained in Texas, have gone on hunger strike to demand their release, an immigrant rights group representing them said on Thursday.
The immigrants said they were being held at a detention center in Karnes, Texas, with no notification from U.S. authorities on their immigration status, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) said.
It was not immediately clear how many fathers have joined the hunger strike, which began on Wednesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not comment on whether a hunger strike was taking place. ICE said in a statement it respected the rights of detainees to voice their opinion and would not retaliate in any way.
“We are desperate, we are tired of being incarcerated and we want to be released with our sons,” read a letter to media from a detainee named “Jorge” read out on a conference call hosted by RAICES. The letter said it represented 400 families.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made a hardline stance on immigration an integral part of his presidency and has promised to keep immigrants targeted for deportation locked up “pending the outcome of their removal proceedings.”
Some 2,500 children were separated from their parents as part of a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration that began in early May. Many of them had crossed the U.S.-Mexican border illegally, while others had sought asylum. The U.S. government said last week it had reunited just over half of them.
RAICES said some fathers were staging sit-ins at the Karnes County Residential Center, about 51 miles southeast of San Antonio and children were refusing to take part in school activities. Nearly 600 people were involved in protests, it said.
Private contractor GEO Group Inc (GEO.N), which runs the Karnes County Residential Center, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some fathers at the center said they were misled into agreeing to deportation as a condition of seeing their children again, RAICES said. Others said they had not been given the opportunity to apply for asylum.
A federal judge in San Diego has placed an indefinite stay on deportations in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Male immigrants at Karnes, and women and girl immigrants detained in Dilley, Texas, are among migrants who were reunited last week and then detained, RAICES said.
Reporting By Andrew Hay; editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool