Hunger strike down to 2 detainees; Congressman Smith to visit Tacoma facility

Staff writerMarch 19, 2014 

IMMIGRATION PRESS CONFERENCE

Jocelyn Tovar, daughter of detainee Jesus Gaspar, tears up while listening to a speaker about her dad holds her daughter, Dulce, 1, during the press conference in front of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention center located in Tacoma's Tideflats on Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2014.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer Buy Photo

A hunger strike at Tacoma’s federal immigration detention center dropped to two participants Wednesday, as a detention facility in Texas also started a strike and a congressman planned to visit the Tacoma center Thursday.

Tacoma’s strikers have said they are protesting deportations, conditions at the center and for easier access to bonds that let detainees be released while their immigration cases are reviewed.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the two detainees were under medical observation Wednesday, and that both were eating occasionally, but not enough to rejoin the center’s general population. Supporters said the strike started March 7 with hundreds of detainees participating.

An agency spokesman declined to comment on the release of Jose Moreno, who supporters said had been a strike leader, and was released from the center March 12. Circumstances of his release were not immediately clear. 

Moreno, along with Veronica Noriega and Donna Gaspar, who supporters said are wives of the men still under medical observation, gathered outside the center Wednesday.

The strike has garnered congressional attention. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, planned to visit the center Thursday, press secretary Ben Halle said.

“I am very concerned with the reported hunger strike ... .” Smith said in a statement March 14. “On Tuesday (March 11), my office initiated a conversation with ICE and the NWDC to directly express my concerns as well as relay questions my constituents and I have about what is going on and what is being done to fix the situation.”

The strike also appeared to have gotten the attention of detainees at a Texas facility.

Free Speech Radio News reported Tuesday that detainees at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas, started a hunger strike of their own Monday night, with similar demands.

A public affairs official for the Texas facility did not return a message left by The News Tribune Wednesday.

Both the Tacoma and Texas facility are operated by The GEO Group, a private company contracted by ICE.

“GEO’s immigration facilities, including the Northwest Detention Center, provide high quality services in safe, secure and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary,” GEO said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268

alexis.krell@thenewstribune.com

www.thenewstribune.com/crime-news

@amkrell

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