More than 100 immigrants were pepper-sprayed at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Louisiana this weekend, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
The detainees were pepper-sprayed at the ICE Processing Center in Pine Prairie on Saturday, just a day after guards pepper-sprayed more than 30 immigrant detainees at a separate facility in rural Louisiana.
The incident in Pine Prairie was not publicly disclosed.
The inmates at Pine Prairie — where more than 1,000 ICE detainees can be held at a time — were pepper-sprayed after they demonstrated in the center’s yard, the source said. The inmates were then taken to a separate part of the facility to be decontaminated.
After this story was published, Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, confirmed the incident in an email to BuzzFeed News.
Cox said that a "group of ICE detainees refused to depart the outdoor recreation area at the Pine Prairie facility Friday evening."
"After repeated attempts by facility staff and ICE personnel to disperse the group and restore orderly operation of the facility, a brief, calculated use of pepper spray was employed Saturday morning."
He added that no one was injured in the incident.
But the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants, said 115 immigrants who had been hunger striking for more than five days at the detention center "were tear gassed, shot at with rubber bullets, beaten, placed in solitary confinement, and blocked from contacting their families or attorneys."
The group provided images of people bearing bruises they say were the result of being struck with rubber bullets.
An ICE spokesperson denied the allegations, saying, "there is no truth to those claims. Whomever is telling you that is doing a disservice to the community they claim to represent by spreading false rumors."
The day before, on Friday, guards at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility also pepper-sprayed more than 30 inmates for protesting, the source said. Mother Jones first reported the incident at Bossier Parish.
Lt. Bill Davis, a spokesman for the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office, said that about 30 of the 300 ICE detainees at the facility caused a “disturbance” by tossing food trays onto and against the doors. In order to de-escalate the situation, he said, deputies deployed the pepper spray.
“We cannot have an uprising period,” he said.
Davis said that many of the detainees involved in the incident were from Cuba and were frustrated at the lack of communication over their immigration cases. He said that sheriff’s officials have been in touch with ICE to increase communication between the inmates and the agency.
Davis added that as of Monday 12 ICE detainees had been on hunger strike since Friday.
Immigration officials have come under increased scrutiny from advocates and congressional officials as ICE has expanded the number of detainees in its custody to levels never before seen. While the agency was funded to house around 42,000 immigrant detainees, it has surpassed that mark to reach a new record: 55,185 inmates.
Earlier this year, the Pine Prairie facility, which is operated by GEO Group, a private prison company that runs many ICE jails, was struck with a mumps outbreak. At the time, advocates said the outbreak limited legal access for immigrant detainees with the infectious disease.
In April, an inmate at the facility, along with detainees at other facilities in the region, alleged that ICE officials categorically refused to release them after they applied for asylum.