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Rally in support of asylum seekers


September 8, 1999

Contact: Lara Rabiee at 212-494-0763
Or 212-747-1046


The Committee for Humanitarian Assistance to Iranian Refugees (CHAIR) is co-sponsoring a rally in support of detainees at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Wackenhut prison and to condemn a policy that has resulted in the confinement and inhuman treatment of thousands of individuals, including legal residents and asylum seekers, throughout the United States. The rally will take place this Thursday, September 9, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at 26 Federal Plaza (Broadway side) in New York City.

Since the early 1980's, the United States INS has been authorized by law to detain people seeking asylum if they lack appropriate travel documents or visas or if the INS believes they are not likely to appear for their scheduled court hearing. Despite having demonstrated credible fear of persecution in their home countries and often having family and community organizations willing to support them, asylum seekers are held in prison-like conditions until their case is finally decided, a period lasting an average of 4-6 months and sometimes years.

The recent implementation of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) drastically increased the number of people under INS detention. The law required the "expedited removal" of asylum seekers who fail to demonstrate a credible fear of persecution (at times without proper translation or legal support) and the deportation of legal residents convicted of even minor offenses. The law requires detention of both classes of individuals until they can be deported.

On July 27, 1999, more than half the detainees at one of the INS' detention centers, the Wackenhut facility, began a hunger strike. Their demands are that the INS live up to its promise to review the parole applications of political asylum seekers in detention, ensure legal representation and adequate translation services for detainees, and improve prison conditions.

In response, prison officials put hunger strikers in solitary confinement, denied them liquids, threatened them with forced feeding and immediate deportation from the country, and transferred leaders of the hunger strike to other facilities. Only one hunger striker, an Ugandan, remains.

CHAIR gives its full support to the detainees and their demands. We call on the INS to relieve Mr. Robinson of the INS Detention and Deportation Office at Wackenhut of his position for his role in violating the rights of hunger strikers at the facility and to immediately parole asylum seekers in detention. We also call for an end to the U.S. policy of imprisoning individuals because of their immigration status. CHAIR holds the INS responsible for the lives and safety of all those seeking protection from persecution.

CHAIR calls on all individuals and groups to show their support by attending the rally or otherwise calling and/or faxing a letter to INS District Director Edward J. McElroy at telephone 212-264-3972 and fax 212-264-5939.

CHAIR, GPO, PO Box 7051, New York, NY 10116. Tel: 212-747-1046. Fax: 212-425-7260. E-mail: Web Site:;


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