A federal judge in Columbus has approved force-feeding a Ukrainian man who has been carrying out a hunger strike at an immigration detention center in Southwest Georgia.
While protesting his impending deportation, Vitaly Novikov, 61, has missed 61 meals and lost more than 24 pounds at the privately-operated Stewart Detention Center, court records show.
As first reported by the Daily Report, U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Abrams issued an order this month, giving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement permission to force-feed Novikov, take blood and urine samples from him and restrain him if he resists.
Novikov is the third ICE detainee in Georgia to make news this week. On Monday, authorities at Stewart discovered a Panamanian national had committed suicide by hanging himself in his solitary confinement cell. He had been isolated for 19 days. A day later, an Indian national who ICE was holding at the Atlanta City Detention Center died at Grady Memorial Hospital from what the government says were complications from congestive heart failure.
In her ruling in Novikov’s case, Abrams wrote “the government has a legitimate interest in saving the life of the defendant.”
Novikov, who represented himself in the case, could not be immediately reached for comment at Stewart. Novikov was admitted to the U.S. as a refugee in 1989 and obtained a green card three years later, court records show. In February, he was convicted of aggravated domestic violence and sentenced to 10 years behind bars, according to ICE. And last month, an Immigration Court judge ordered him deported.
ICE argued that Novikov’s death could cause unrest at the sprawling detention center in Lumpkin.
“Perceptions may be formed by the detained population that the detention and removal staff will simply let Novikov die, without doing anything to save him, which could lead to acts of detainee violence and disruptions,” Alejandro Hernandez, an ICE supervisory detention and deportation officer, wrote in a court filing.
Citing privacy rules, federal officials said they could not disclose whether Novikov is still refusing to eat and whether he is being force-fed. But ICE confirmed a detainee at Stewart is on “hunger strike status.”
“In general, ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said. “ICE does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers. ICE explains the negative health effects of not eating to our detainees. For their health and safety, ICE closely monitors the food and water intake of those detainees identified as being on a hunger strike.”
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