ARCHIVES: Detainee opposes being fed - January 13, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Detainee opposes being fed, Arnel Belizaire Hunger striker battling INS

A hunger-striking Haitian man who faces deportation is taking the Immigration and Naturalization Service to court to assert his right to starve himself as a political gesture. Arnel Belizaire has been incarcerated at Krome detention center since Sept. 12, 1998, because he
cannot afford to post a $25,000 bond during his deportation proceedings.

Belizaire claims he was persecuted in Haiti for his political beliefs and is appealing the denial of his request for asylum. But he cannot gather evidence to prove his case while locked up, his attorney said. To draw attention to his cause, Belizaire stopped eating 48 days ago.
He was hospitalized Jan. 4 and remains at Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami. On Jan. 6, the INS asked District Court Judge Alan Gold to sign an order authorizing force-feeding him, by strapping his arms and legs to his hospital bed if necessary. Gold granted the request.
But the American Civil Liberties Union, which Belizaire called and asked to represent him, filed papers Wednesday with Gold arguing that the Haitian man has a right to refuse to eat on privacy and reedom-of-speech grounds. ``I am not aware of other instances in which
INS detainees have [gone] to court because they were on a hunger strike,'' said Andy Kayton, legal director of the ACLU's Florida branch.``It's a fairly rare type of case. Hopefully one thing that will help us prevail is that a hunger strike is really a time-honored means
of political protest that can and should be accommodated by the federal government.'' The ACLU also protested that Belizaire had not been told that about the INS force-feeding petition and had a right to have a full hearing with representation on the issue. Gold agreed and set a hearing for next Tuesday. Chuck Ziethen, the assistant INS officer in charge at
Krome detention center, said Wednesday that he could not comment until after reading Belizaire's file this morning. ``The file is locked up, and we can't get to it this second,'' Ziethen said. ``I've canvassed all the officers to see who was involved, who made the decision, but
they were not here. There are only two officers here at the moment. I apologize for that.''


Usually, Kayton said, hunger-strike cases have come up in state courts. Unlike the federal Constitution, Florida explicitly protects a right to privacy -- which has been interpreted to cover a right to refuse medical treatment. ``The overriding issue with hunger-strike cases has been the right to refuse medical treatment,'' Kayton said. ``That's a right expressly established under the state Constitution, but it's something we would argue is also established under the federal Constitution. But that's something we expect to get an argument about'' from INS lawyers. Because the INS is a federal agency, it does not have to follow state
guidelines -- a power also recently invoked in the case of Elian Gonzalez. A Florida judge ruled that the Cuban boy should stay in the United States until a custody hearing can be held, but most legal
experts agree that INS administrators are not bound by that decision. Kayton said that so far he has spoken to Belizaire only on the phone because INS officials have not granted him face-to-face access yet. He knows little about Belizaire other than that his mother and a sister
live in Boston and that he was found to have entered the United States illegally.


``My understanding is that he's a well-educated individual with about 20 years of schooling,'' Kayton said. ``His English is astonishingly good for someone who has lived in the U.S. for only a year or so. He claims to have had some fairly substantial political involvement in
Haiti. Apparently he was imprisoned at one time and did suffer consequences because of his political activities.'' Despite the gap between the granting of the original order and the ACLU's protest, Kayton said Belizaire has not yet been force-fed. ``There hasn't been a need to, either because the deterioration his doctor feared has not occurred or because he's ingesting some nutrients voluntarily,'' he said. Kayton said Belizaire has told him he is desperate because while he is locked up in Krome, he cannot gather evidence to prove that he
would be in danger if returned to Haiti. ``Given the context, there aren't a whole lot of other means by which a person can engage in political protest with this kind of intensity or power of message,'' Kayton said. ``A detainee at Krome can't advertise a political message in The Miami Herald or The New York Times. He doesn't have a congressman to write to. This is a clear and powerful mechanism for expressing an intensely held view.''


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