Hunger strikers decry conditions at Tacoma detention center

The following is from NWDC Resistance:

UPDATE (April 14, 2017) — Immigrant women caged at the Northwest Detention Center confirmed that they have joined the hunger strike that has grown at the facility since this past Monday in protest of conditions inside the immigration prison. Supporters continued an outside encampment, receiving constant updates from people detained.

The women’s pod at the Northwest Detention Center got news out that they had joined the strike. In a statement, one of the women described conditions that led them to join the hunger strike, which include delayed court proceedings, and being given terrible food, and dirty used underwear. The hunger striker, whose court proceeding has been rescheduled four times, stated, “We came here fleeing from our countries so that we could be heard and to ask for help… but we have been forgotten here.” She explains that the hunger strikers are being told that there is no outside support for their efforts, but that they nonetheless vow to continue their protest.

The strike comes as the Trump administration awards its first contract to a build a new detention facility to GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the Tacoma immigration prison. The deal for the construction of a new 1,000-bed, $110 million immigration prison in Conroe, Texas, to be run by the GEO Group, brought extra urgency to protest.

“People are risking their health and their lives to bring to light the abuses of ICE and GEO Group. For the government to continue to expand GEO Group’s capacity to cage immigrants at this time only highlights the need for the hunger strikers’ protest,” said Maru Mora Villalpando of NWDC Resistance.

A solidarity rally is planned for 6 p.m. tonight, with video from a hunger striker and band member from Raza Obrera singing an original protest song, and statements from family members of hunger strikers. For live updates, visit www.facebook.com/NWDCResistance.

UPDATE (April 13, 2017) — Today at noon will mark 72 hours since immigrants incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) began refusing meals, launching a hunger strike to protest their treatment inside the immigration prison. Supporters received news on Wednesday morning that over 750 people were refusing meals. Today at noon defenders of human rights are expected to communicate with their supporters in the outside whether they will continue their hunger strike or not.

WHAT:   Rally to hear from people detained on hunger strike decision to continue or end action.

WHO:      Defenders of human rights currently detained and on hunger strike, and their supporters.

WHERE: North side of main entrance to the NWDC, 1623 E. J St., Tacoma

WHEN:  Thursday April 13, 2017 at Noon

Community members have set up an encampment at the gates of the facility, planning to stay for the duration of the strike. For live updates, visit www.facebook.com/NWDCResistance.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m., April 11, 2017) — Yesterday at noon, more than 100 immigrants incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) refused their lunch, launching a hunger strike to protest their treatment inside the immigration prison. Supporters who rallied outside the facility received constant updates from people detained as more pods (housing units inside the facility) joined the call to not eat, not to use the phones, and not to buy from the commissary.

By Tuesday morning, more than 400 people had begun refusing meals, with reports of strikers in nine different pods throughout the facility. Incarcerated immigrants are currently paid $1 a day to clean and provide upkeep for the the facility, cook the meals, and do the laundry. However, in at least four pods, the people detained also called for a work stoppage, throwing the immigration prison’s functions into chaos.

As the sun rose on the second day of the hunger strike, ICE moved forward with their planned Tuesday morning deportations, with two buses emblazoned with the GEO Group logo leaving the facility full of people. Additionally, ICE cancelled the daily immigration courts hearings, attempting to break the unity and morale of those on hunger strike by halting the hearings some immigrants had waited months for. Hunger strikers also reported that GEO guards were blocking television access, barring strikers from watching news accounts of their efforts.

Despite the retaliation, the strike continued, with participant Alejandro Macias noting that losing his freedom emboldened him to strike, “We won’t give up, what else can they do to us? These abuses must end.” Another hunger striker, detained artist Juan Manuel with the popular musical group Raza Obrera, has begun writing a song about the strike, saying, “We are united and we won’t stop, we need to be treated fairly. We are humans beings not animals.”

Community members set up an encampment at the gates of the facility, planning to stay for the duration of the strike. A solidarity rally is planned for 6 p.m. tonight. For live updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/NWDCResistance/.

TACOMA (April 11, 2017) — At noon on Monday, more than 100 immigrants incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) refused their lunch, launching a hunger strike to protest their treatment inside the immigration prison. The Tacoma facility, located on a Superfund site, is the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast, caging more than 1,500 immigrants who are facing civil deportation proceedings.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with the GEO Group, a multinational private prison corporation, to run the facility, and hunger strikers aimed their demands at both the federal government and the private contractor. The NWDC has been a frequent target of immigrant activists since a March 2014 hunger strike involving 1,200 detainees first brought international notoriety to the immigration prison.

A demand letter that circulated around the facility prior to the launch of the strike echoed many of the concerns raised in the 2014 strike, and includes demands for more expedited hearings, improved quality of food, improved access to medical care, and lowering of exorbitant commissary prices (strikers note that already over-inflated prices on commissary items have recently doubled).

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre (right) visited the NWDC in 2014.

Additionally, hunger strikers are asking for an increase in the $1 a day they currently receive for running all of the prison’s basic services. Some say they have even been denied the $1/day payment, and have been given a bag of chips in exchange for several nights of waxing the prison’s floors.

Community members, including members of Northwest Detention Center Resistance, a group that has supported those held at the NWDC since the 2014 hunger strike, rallied at the facility at noon Monday, seeking to bring public attention to the activists striking inside the facility.

“Detention conditions were already terrible under Obama, and from what we’re hearing, they’ve gotten even worse since Trump’s election,” reported the NWDC in a press release. “We know from past hunger strikes that ICE and GEO are quick to retaliate, and we want the hunger strikers to know that they are not alone.”

NWDC Resistance is a volunteer community group that emerged to fight deportations in 2014 at the now-infamous Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma as part of the #Not1more campaign, and supported people detained who organized hunger strikes asking for a halt to all deportations and better treatment and conditions.

► On March 6 in the Washington Post — Thousands of ICE detainees claim they were forced into labor, a violation of anti-slavery laws — Tens of thousands of immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were forced to work for $1 day, or for nothing at all — a violation of federal anti-slavery laws — a lawsuit claims. The lawsuit reached class-action status this week after a federal judge’s ruling. That means the case could involve as many as 60,000 immigrants who have been detained. It’s the first time a class-action lawsuit accusing a private U.S. prison company of forced labor has been allowed to move forward.

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