Northwest Detention Center, Tacoma, Washington
October 18, 2019 – October 26, 2019 (exact end date unknown)

More than two hundred detainees began a hunger strike on Friday at the Northwest Detention Center, a privately-run immigrant detention center, according to the immigrant advocate group La Resistencia.

In a press release, the group stated that the strikers were demanding, “edible food, humane treatment by guards and the shutdown of the facility.” According to La Resistencia, the hunger strike is expected to last eight days.

An ICE spokesperson refuted the hunger strike claims, saying it does not meet their definition of a hunger strike.

“Failure to eat the facility provided meal is not a stand-alone factor in the determination of a detainee’s suspected or announced hunger strike action. Commissary food items remain available for purchase by detainees,” Tanya Roman, public affairs officer for ICE, wrote in an email.

Statement from a strike participant (Source: La Resistencia)

On Monday, October 21, La Resistencia announced via Twitter that the work stoppage at the facility had prevented the kitchen from operating and that the hunger strike was ongoing.

On October 25, La Resistencia released an update saying that at least one pod was still refusing food.

“#HungerStrike update: One week into the strike, at least one pod is still refusing food and demanding better treatment inside the NWDC and the end of detention and deportations everywhere.

Hunger strikers inside the NWDC put their bodies on the line, often facing harsh retaliation from officers in the detention center along side the symptoms that come along with not eating for long periods of time. We are here to amplify their message, their demands. #noEstánSolos #YouAreNotAlone#ChingaLaMigra#InSolidarityWithHungerStrikers

During a hunger strike, in addition to weight loss, many other symptoms can occur:
-Sensation of hunger at the beginning then loss of appetite
-apathy and irritability
-headache, dizziness, difficulty getting up and moving, stroke
-anxiety, sadness, insomnia, impaired concentration
-abdominal pain, peptic ulcers, nausea, constipation (sometimes diarrhea)
-very painful nephrolithiasis, renal failure
-reduction of blood pressure and respiratory rates.”

La Resistencia also published statements from detainees participating in the hunger strike. One participant stated:

“We are tired of eating garbage, finding maggots, and other things in the food. GEO and ICE don’t do anything, they take the report and then they say ‘everything has been fixed,’ yet we continue finding maggots in the food. GEO guards mistreat us, they yelled at us, in some instances they have assaulted people here. Some people are afraid of them, but mostly we are tired of being treated that way. We also want to do something for you all, we want to support the efforts outside to shut down this place.”

Statement from a strike participant (Source: La Resistencia)

Another detainee highlighted guard abuse as his reason for striking, stating that he has been traumatized by an assault from a guard. He went on to say, “I’d rather be here and die of hunger than eating maggots.” The detainee, who released a statement to La Resistencia under conditions of anonymity, identified himself only as “A.M.R.”:

Statement from an anonymous detainee using the initials “A.M.R.” on hunger strike at the North West Detention Center (Source: La Resistencia).

Another detainee, who identified himself using the initials “H.B.R.A” released a statement in Spanish to La Resistencia, stating that he has found blood, hair and worms in his food:

“This is not the first time, but I didn’t report it until today. The first time, there was blood on my plate and the second, a hair. This is the third time; there were worms in the food. There were many people who saw the worm, and the guard said he would report it, too. The people who saw the incident confirmed that the same incident had happened to them but no one reported it to the guards. They didn’t know if they could or not, because sometimes they just ignore the reports, and the kitchen workers told me that there are mice in the kitchen.” (translation by Perilous)

Statement from an anonymous detainee using the initials “H.B.R.A.” on hunger strike at the North West Detention Center (Source: La Resistencia).

La Resistencia released a handwritten list of 14 complaints about the Northwest Detention Center, describing the conditions at the facility:

Handwritten complaints from detainees at the Northwest Detention Center (Source: La Resistencia).

Handwritten complaints from detainees at the Northwest Detention Center (Source: La Resistencia).

  1. We are being separated from our families when we are ordered deported, which is against the Geneva Convention.
  2. The outcome or decision of the immigration judge is a lifetime sentence which is permanent torture for us and our families.
  3. We are being incarcerated here at GEO and other facilities throughout the United States of America. Bond is not an option, no one ever qualifies. Maybe one out of twenty. The reason being is to keep this and other facilities filled to keep a constant profit/use us as a stock for profit.
  4. We are being incarcerated here against our will, on a civil matter, civil so the government does not, and will not provide attorneys for our defense. So we are thrown under the bus at our court proceedings in which the judges of Immigration work at their own discretion as well as ICE.
  5. Being incarcerated at GEO and other facilities is not beneficial for us or our case law due to the fact that we are only allowed 1 hour of law library a day and no weekends. Anyone who is familiar with case law knows an hour a day is a set up for failure.
  6. The immigration court system is not fractured it is beyond fractured it is extremely abolished and shredded, which only works in the favor of the government. And offers no relief for the defendant.
  7. To clarify that we are incarcerated, to prove this fact, the following will establish this matter. Our calls are monitored.
  8. As for mental torture—we must sleep with the lights on every night. Psychological torture.
  9. We are not given contact visits with our families and loved ones.
  10. The uniform classification system is biased and used as a segregation motive which works at its own discretion, in a prejudiced manner.
  11. Inmates here have severe mental disabilities with no knowledge of their court proceedings or their surroundings, which requires special care.
  12. The ICE officers which come randomly never give you a straight and honest answer. They answer to make you feel defeated.
  13. The outside yard smells so toxic of propane and polluted due to the landfill which is 20 feet from this facility.
  14. The inside of this building and our rooms smell like…[illegible]…from the landfill next door and is unbearable…[illegible]…from the land fill next door. Many times the smell of dead dogs and cats which are buried at the…[illegible]. This was confessed to me by a guard here.

According to La Resistencia, there have been 19 recorded hunger strikes at the facility in the past five years, with numbers of participating detainees sometimes reaching over a thousand.

The demands of many of the hunger strikes have focused on food issues and guard abuse but have often gone so far as to call for the closure of the facility and a complete halt on deportations. Detainees have also participated in work stoppages and commissary boycotts at the facility.

The private facility operated by The GEO Group imprisons up to 1,575 people on any given day and has been the target of numerous lawsuits in recent years. Among those lawsuits was a 2017 class-action lawsuit which accused The GEO Group of violating the U.S. Constitution and federal antislavery laws by paying detainees less than a dollar a day for their labor and sometimes paying them nothing at all.

The hunger strike is also part of a recent wave of strikes coming out of Washington prisons in which food quality is a primary complaint. Just a week prior, at least 40 prisoners at Clallam Bay engaged in a hunger strike and work stoppage, citing poor food quality as a main motivation. In February, 2019, prisoners at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center held a hunger strike that lasted nearly a month and in April, 2018 prisoners at Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla held a hunger strike that lasted about 11 days.

La Resistencia asked that supporters join them on Saturday, October 19, and Sunday, October 20, at 12:30 p.m. at the Northwest Detention Center, to demand “that ICE and GEO Group do not retaliate, meet the strikers demands, and ultimately release them all!”

 

Citations:

Hundreds of ICE detainees refusing to eat food provided at Tacoma detention center“, The News Tribune, October 18, 2019.

Hunger Strike at Tacoma NWDC Calls for Humane Treatment and Shutdown of Facility“, La Resistencia, ND.

LaResistencia_NW (@ResistenciaNW). October, 20, 2019. “I’d rather be here and die of hunger than eating maggots” #hungerstrike day 3 at #nwdc #Tacoma #ICE meet strikers demands and release them all! #communitiesnotcages #abolishice #ShutdownNWDC [Tweet]. Accessed October 20, 2019.

Background:

To the Daring the Future Belongs“, Commune Mag, August 5, 2019.

Article published: 10/20/19; Updated 10/22/19

Header Photo Source: Seattle Globalist