By Jon Herskovitz
(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in federal court on Thursday, seeking records the civil rights group contends provide accounts of hunger strikes at immigration detention facilities.
The ACLU said in its filing that in recent weeks there have been a new series of hunger strikes at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in Georgia, Oregon and Washington, adding hunger strikes have previously hit detention centers in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
The suit comes as U.S. Republican President Donald Trump has promised a crackdown on illegal immigration and the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress this month agreed to fund an additional 5,300 detention beds for those suspected of illegally entering the country.
"The Trump administration's plans to expand detention and strip away existing structures for oversight of detention are likely to produce more protests both inside and outside the walls of detention facilities," the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said in an email: "ICE is unable to comment on pending litigation."
The lawsuit said detention center inmates have launched the hunger strikes over the past few years as a non-violent way to bring attention to what they see as a lack of access to bond hearings and inhumane conditions of confinement.
The suit also said that some inmates who have previously launched hunger strikes were met with extraordinarily punitive responses.
From April 1-22, an average of 36,235 immigrants were in detention per day, according to the most recent statistics provided by ICE.
The White House in March requested bringing the total number of beds up to 45,700, saying the additional capacity was necessary to achieve the president's goal of "enhancing interior enforcement efforts and ending 'catch and release' for those apprehended at the border."
The agreement reached in Congress would increase the number of immigration detention beds to 39,324 from 34,000 currently, according to a summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee.
In April, hundreds of detainees at an immigration detention center in Washington state began refusing meals in a hunger strike to protest conditions at the facility and delayed immigration hearings, activists said.
The Geo Group Inc, the company that operates the Washington state facility and other detention centers around the United States, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)