Detainees declare end of hunger strike at Northwest Detention Center

Staff writerMay 5, 2014 

Immigration detainees have declared an end to a series of hunger strikes at the federal detention center on Tacoma’s Tideflats, supporters said Monday.

Hunger strikes and fasting in protest of deportations and living conditions at the Northwest Detention Center started March 7.

It wasn’t clear how many detainees were refusing all food or how many were fasting at different points during the protest, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said initially that 750 people had refused meals at the center. By March 12, five strikers remained.

The protest got a second wind March 24, supporters said, but it wasn’t clear to what extent.

Protesters announced the end of the strike in a statement dated Thursday, supporters said, adding that the group “affirms their commitment to their initial demands, including a call for an end to deportations and for bold action by President Obama.”

Detainees have said the protest was against substandard food, $1 per day working wages and other aspects of life at the Northwest Detention Center. They’re also concerned about immigration law, such as what they call a costly, slow-moving bond process.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, was among those who spoke with strikers.

Supporters said strikers’ concerns had not been resolved by ICE, but that Smith has “drafted legislation, set to be introduced this week, which aims to create statutory standards for the treatment of immigrant detainees.”

New issues raised by supporters as they announced the end of the strike included what they said were “serious workplace injuries” to detainees at the center, “possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars of unaccounted telephone funds held back by the facility upon detainees’ deportations,” and “prison transfers in response to detainees’ peaceful protest.” 

ICE did not directly address each of those allegations Monday, but regional spokesman Andrew Munoz referred to a previous statement in which he said: “ICE may separate individuals from the general population in order to ensure the safety and security of the individuals themselves, others, and staff at the detention center.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and others said about 20 people were put in solitary confinement at the end of March as a result of the protest. They were reportedly released back to the general population at the center on April 4.

Munoz said last month that the action was taken after the agency got complaints that some detainees had intimidated others into taking part in the protest.

Veronica Negrete said her husband, Jose Negrete Mendoza, was moved in late April to a facility in Oregon, where he remains in solitary confinement. Officials haven’t told her the reason for the move, she said Monday from her home in the Tri-Cities.

ICE contracts with a private company, the GEO Group, to run the Tacoma center.

Supporters wrote Monday that one successful outcome from the strike was that it put “an end to the silence surrounding the conditions of detention and deportation in this corner of the country.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268

alexis.krell@thenewstribune.com

thenewstribune.com/crime-news

@amkrell

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