“Breaking Down Borders” Hunger Strike at Northwest Detention Center in Response to COVID-19

“Breaking Down Borders” Hunger Strike at Northwest Detention Center in Response to COVID-19

Northwest Detention Center, Tacoma, Washington
March 27, 2020

On Friday, March 27, 30 immigrant detainees started a hunger strike to protest the lack of adequate response to the outbreak of COVID-19. By the following day, the number had reached at least 80. As of Sunday, March 29, between 300 and 500 detainees were on strike. And on April 5, about 60 women detainees at the facility joined the hunger strike.

The group La Resistencia, which does support for immigrants detained at the facility, said that the detainees had named their protest the “Breaking Down Borders” hunger strike, due to the participation across differences of nationality.

“The people that started the hunger strike are from different nationalities. They want to be clear about that,” said Maru Mora Villalpando, a member of La Resistencia. “There are a lot of Latinx detainees there, but it’s not just them. Russians, Indians, Bangladeshis, they’re all joining in.”

According to the group, “The strike is indefinite, continuing until the following demands are met: 1) Provide humanitarian temporary visa for those inside; 2) Reunite those detained with their families; 3) Stop all deportation and immigration proceedings until the pandemic has concluded.”

In an interview Sunday, March 29, Villalpando said “Today we learned that there’s six pods on hunger strike and based on numbers we were given, something like 300-500 people are participating. People are aiming to get the entire facility on hunger strike,”

One detainee, who was quoted anonymously by La Resistencia, said “We want to be released because in here there’s no protection from the virus…We are on hunger strike because we know it’s not true that we will receive medical care here in NWDC. In our unit there are eighty people, at least seventy-five of us are on hunger strike today [Saturday, March 28, 2020]. Two other units have joined us with twenty to fifty people also on hunger strike.”

According to Villalpando, the detainees are demanding to be granted humanitarian visas, which would allow for their release from ICE detention until the pandemic is over. They’re “not just saying let us stay in the country, forget about the process,” she said,  “They’re saying ‘let us be in the country and once the pandemic ends, let the process continue.'”

“They’re worried. How do they know a guard who comes in or someone who is brought in doesn’t have the virus?” Villalpando said. “They are looking at the protection of the entire people in the facility and outside the facility. Guards are going to take the virus out and the entire community is going to be facing these problems. They’re looking at everybody, not just themselves.”

According to Villalpando, guards at the facility have begun to retaliate against the strikers, “We heard that in one pod where today is day 3 [of the hunger strike], the guards came in and started searching and claiming people were eating from commissary… Three people ended up losing their commissary items without being told why.  And also lost their tablet privileges.

According to an article in Yes!, detainees at the facility first initiated a small “lunchtime hunger strike” two weeks ago over concerns about COVID-19.


Social Distancing Is Not an Option for People in Prison and ICE Detention”, Yes!, March 23, 2020.

With NWDC a “Tinderbox” for COVID-19 Outbreak, Detained People Begin Mass Hunger Strike to Highlight Their Plight“, La Resistencia, March 28, 2020.

Maru Mora Villalpando, La Resistencia, Personal Interview, March 29, 2020.

Immigrant Women Launch Hunger Strike in Tacoma, WA as COVID-19 Cases Rise in Immigration Jails“, Democracy Now! Headlines, April 6, 2020.

Article published: 3/30/2020. Updated 4/9/2020.