As part of a three-day hunger strike, nearly 400 immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, refused meals for the second day Wednesday.
The detainees in the 1,575-bed ICE-run detention center are striking against poor living conditions such as food quality, access to medical care, high commissary prices, levels of hygiene in the facilities, as well as speeding up court proceedings, among other demands.
Once detainees have gone 72 hours without food, ICE claim to implement a hunger-strike protocol that will allow detainees to be referred to the detention center's medical department where they can be monitored and possibly treated.
“Individuals on a hunger strike will continue to be offered three meals daily and provided with an adequate supply of drinking water and other beverages. They will also be counseled about the related medical risks,” said Rose Richeson, a spokeswoman for ICE to the Seattle Times.
"None of the detainees has missed a sufficient number of meals to be considered on a hunger strike," added Richeson, who claimed the “number of detainees refusing prepared meals at the NWDC continues to decline."
The immigrants started the three-day hunger strike noon Monday to protest their poor living conditions, reported immigrant rights group NWDC Resistance in a statement. Since then, the hunger strikers have refused meals and stopped using their phones while objecting to the late night lights out rule, in a bid to obtain better food, hygiene, medical attention, increased recreational time, and speed up court proceedings among other demands.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement 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,” said the immigrants' support group in a press release.
“It is very likely that ICE and GEO will try to retaliate by switching them (the striking detainees) to other pods or sending them to solitary,” NWDC Resistance leader Maru Mora Villalpando told the crowd Monday outside of the facility as they held a solidarity action.
In March 2014, over one thousand people detained at the NWDC decided to start a hunger strike, which lasted for 56 days and spread to other detention centers across the United States.
The NWDC has been a frequent target of immigrant activists since that hunger strike first brought international notoriety to the immigration prison.
“This year, on the third anniversary of their action, we reflect on their achievements and make an abolitionist call to stop locking people up and end all deportations,” added the activists.
The conditions have still not improved much in three years, as immigrants explain that they are paid US$1 per day for mandatory work — sometimes not even paid — despite running all the facility's basic services, and receiving a bag of chips in exchange for several nights of waxing the prison’s floors for instance.
“Detention conditions were already terrible under Obama, and from what we’re hearing, they’ve gotten even worse since Trump’s election,” deplored NWDC Resistance.