Rally held outside detention center for 5 remaining hunger strikers

Staff writerMarch 12, 2014 

UPDATE as of 10:30 a.m. U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement said one of the five remaining hunger strikers had eaten two meals, and was returned to the general population Wednesday morning. The four continuing to refuse meals are still under medical observation, the agency said.

INITIAL POST: Officials said five detainees at the federal immigration detention center in Tacoma were not eating Tuesday, on the fifth day of a hunger strike at the facility.

Supporters said detainees were protesting deportations, working conditions, food, and treatment by guards at the Northwest Detention Center on the Tideflats. A couple hundred gathered outside the center Tuesday evening to rally in support of the detainees.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said 27 detainees who said they hadn’t eaten for 72 hours were under medical observation away from the center’s general population in the morning. Of those protesters, 22 ate breakfast and lunch and were returned to the general population, and five remained under medical observation, the agency said.

“Since Friday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and detention center management have been communicating with detainees, both through in-person visits to the detention center’s pods and using the center’s regular written communication channels,”  local agency spokesman Andrew Muñoz said Tuesday. “Several issues that have been brought to management’s attention are being addressed, including adding more items to the commissary list and exploring ways to reduce prices. ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference.”

The agency said Tuesday that it had not taken punitive actions against protesters.

Veronica Noriega, of Seattle, said at the rally that her husband Ramón Mendoza was one of the remaining strikers. She said he was doing well when she spoke with him on the phone Tuesday afternoon. He and four other strikers were together, segregated by guards from the general population of the facility, she said. She didn't know where the fifth striker the agency mentioned was being housed in the center.

Detainee Santos Murillo told The News Tribune on the phone Tuesday that he ended his hunger strike Sunday. He said he felt it was more important for him to be preparing his own legal case in the facility's law library. He had been having one top ramen soup a day, from the commissary at the facility, he said, adding that some strikers had been going entirely without food.

One issue strikers were protesting, he said, was difficulty they’ve had getting bonds to be released as their cases are decided, as opposed to being kept at the detention center while they're reviewed.

“If someone puts up $60,000 for release, I’m sure they’re not a flight risk,” he said. “There are some people who have been here a year, a year and half, two years, and they’re not getting any bonds.”

Deportation officers are looking into concerns detainees have about about individual cases, such as bond amounts, the agency said, adding that many issues had already been addressed, and others needed to be handled by an immigration judge. Those judges are with the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review.

The rally Tuesday included chants of "No están solos" (They're not alone), "Soy indocumentado" (I'm undocumented), "Si se puede" (Yes we can), among others.

U.S. Customs and Immigration has standards related to hunger strikes, and when staff intervene with medical treatment.

alexis.krell@thenewstribune.com

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