The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement for retaliating against hunger strikers by putting them in solitary confinement.
Activists said Thursday that 20 immigrants and supporters taking a stand against deportation at Washington detention facility were stuck in solitary confinement, according to the Associated Press.
ICE denied acting out of malice, saying that officials had only separated the strikers from the general population so as not to intimidate them into joining.
"While ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference, when these expressions infringe on the civil rights of others, ICE has an obligation to act," the agency said in an email.
The ACLU of Washington joined with Columbia Legal Services to sue ICE, asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to put a stop to the practice.
"Retaliating against and punishing immigrant detainees engaged in peaceful protests is an unlawful attempt to chill free speech rights," state ACLU legal director Sarah Dunne said in a written statement. "Like all civil detainees, they have free speech rights protected by the Bill of Rights."
Detainees denied that they had ever intimidated others.
"I cannot challenge the allegations against me because I have not been given any information about what I allegedly did to intimidate others," said one, Ericson Gonzales.
At least 750 detainees participated in the hunger strike that began a month ago. About 1,300 people are kept at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Protesters were taking a stand against conditions there as well as immigration law in general.
Some renewed their hunger strike on March 24. Three days later, guards asked if they wanted to meet with an assistant warden. Those who raised their hands were handcuffed and put in solitary confinement, where they spent 23 hours a day with an hour in a small yard, according to three plaintiffs.
Sources: Associated Press