Federal immigration detainees held at the Bristol County House of Correction are striking and refusing to perform work duties, according to several immigration attorneys with clients at the facility.
The detainees of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been speaking out for two weeks about what they describe as overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and fears of contracting the coronavirus.
Ira Alkalay, an attorney with clients detained by ICE in Bristol County, said the detainees voted to strike after letters and a meeting with leadership at the correctional facility failed to change conditions.
"There was a stoppage of work by the detainees who do all the work in the facility, all the cleaning, serving the food, doing the laundry," Alkalay said.
"They've decided that because of their fear of the coronavirus," he added, "and because nothing has been done ... they've decided to stop work to see if that will effect some response as to their concerns about the coronavirus and the sanitation."
Allison's husband is detained by ICE at the facility. We've agreed to only identify her by her first name because she fears her husband could face retaliation.
She said in a text message to WBUR Tuesday afternoon that her husband was concerned tensions were rising.
"I was speaking with my husband about an hour ago, he mentioned that a number of the COs [correctional officers] were crowding around and discussed apprehending some of the men, and then the facility cut the phone lines so I am not sure what may have happened," Allison wrote.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said in a phone interview that he, along with a number of guards, addressed a group of ICE detainees Tuesday when things got unsettled.
"This particular situation today evolved when the 52 inmates [ICE detainees] didn't like the fact that another inmate [ICE detainee] wanted to wash his clothes and didn't want to be part of these antics," he said. "One of the 52 went and assaulted the other inmate [ICE detainee]."
Hodgson said the minor protest was peacefully dispersed.
"I would fully expect that they'll probably go back to work — they always do. This is nothing new, we've seen it happen before," Hodgson said.
On Monday, a federal judge in Boston urged ICE to stop transferring new detainees to the Bristol County House of Correction while a class action lawsuit plays out. Advocates are suing Hodgson, as well as ICE, over what they allege are inhumane conditions for ICE detainees.
Asked about the work strike, John Mohan, a spokesperson for ICE in New England, said the agency fully respects individuals' rights to voice their opinions.
“ICE is monitoring the situation and coordinating closely with Bristol County to ensure orderly operations are maintained at the facility,” he said in an email.
This article was originally published on March 31, 2020.