Congressman Adam Smith speaks with detainees amid hunger strike at Tacoma immigration center

Staff writerMarch 20, 2014 

A Washington congressman visited detainees Thursday who recently took part in a hunger strike to protest conditions at the federal immigration detention center in Tacoma.

Congressman Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said he met with three detainees and  toured the Northwest Detention Center on the Tideflats. The tour was closed to the press.

“I think there are legitimate concerns about the conditions of the facility,” Smith said. “I think that they raised some legitimate issues. My biggest concern is that there are no legislative standards for what the conditions should be.”

He identified the $1 per day wages for working detainees and commissary prices as concerns the detainees had.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said two detainees remained under medical observation Wednesday, but were occasionally eating. Supporters have said the strike started with hundreds of the center’s 1,300 detainees declining meals starting March 7, in protest of deportations, and conditions at the facility, including its food.

Smith said he didn’t see food served at the facility on his afternoon visit.

“That’s the thing, I come in one day, I’m not going to be able to tell,” he said. “As we were walking around, some of the detainees were shouting at us: ‘Get us better food.’”

The congressman also brought up what he said was the larger issue of deportation.

“How aggressive we are with deportations is an issue as well,” he said. “A little bit more discretion on this issue is something I think would make sense. To keep families together and not rip them apart.” 

Smith said his next step is to review audits of the facility, which is run by a private company called The GEO Group.

“There is a variety of different audits that are done by ICE, by GEO,” he said. “I want to take a look at those, and figure out how consistent they are. How reliable they are.”

GEO emailed a statement Wednesday that mentioned such review of the center.

“All of GEO’s residential facilities under direct contract with ICE are audited and inspected by the agency on a routine and unannounced basis. GEO’s facilities are also independently accredited by the American Correctional Association, which is widely recognized as the foremost independent detention accreditation agency in the United States.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268


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