Immigration advocates drop solitary confinement lawsuit against ICE

Staff writerMay 12, 2014 

Two interest groups on Monday dropped a lawsuit that alleged solitary confinement was being used in retaliation for a hunger strike at the federal immigration detention center on Tacoma’s Tideflats. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and Columbia Legal Services ended their lawsuit after the release of about two dozen detainees from isolation at the Northwest Detention Center, and more recently the end of the hunger strike, announced by detainees May 1. 

The groups “had received all the relief that we were looking for,” ACLU staff attorney La Rond Baker said Monday.

The organizations sued the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency April 2 to prevent what they said was relation in the form of isolation against hunger strikers exercising “First Amendment protected activities,” an ACLU release said. 

“The next day, the individuals were released from solitary confinement.” Baker told The News Tribune. “We do see it as a result of the lawsuit.”

Waves of hunger striking started March 7 at the facility, in protest to deportations, and living and working conditions at the center. It started with about 750 detainees refusing meals, but exact numbers after that were unclear.

On March 27, about 24 detainees were placed in isolation, according to the ACLU.

ICE said at the time that “several individuals” were segregated from the general population, because of complaints from detainees and immigration attorneys that some people were intimidating others into participating in the strike.

“ICE is committed to a civil detention system where the safety, health and welfare of both the detention staff and the detainees are of primary concern,” regional spokesman Andrew Munoz said Monday. 

“The placement of detainees in segregated housing was a serious step that came after careful consideration of alternatives, and was deemed necessary in light of reports of detainee-on-detainee intimidation and an escalation in disruptive behavior. ICE’s use of segregation was necessary and in compliance with applicable detention standards.”

Detainee Ericson Gonzales, who was named in the lawsuit, said in early April that he was at the airport, ready to be deported to the Philippines, when the official accompanying him got a call that he was to be returned to the Tacoma facility, because his presence was necessary for the suit.

He said he had said goodbye to his wife and children during a 25-minute visit at the center.

“She went hysterical,” he told The News Tribune last month, when he called The News Tribune to explain his trip to the airport. 

His family had brought him a box of clothes. He was originally detained in his pajamas while cooking breakfast at home, he said, and asked for the clothes to prevent being deported in his slippers.

The status of his immigration case was not immediately clear Monday.

“The motion to stay Gonzales’ deportation is also dismissed with the underlying complaint,” Baker said.

Veronica Negrete says her husband, hunger striker Jose Negrete Mendoza, and several others remain in solitary confinement at an Oregon facility, where Mendoza was transferred at the end of April.

She has yet to hear why he was sent there, she said.

“I think that there will always be standing concerns about the use of isolation,” Baker said, when asked about allegations that some strikers remain in isolation. “It lends itself to being abused. It is a long-standing and ongoing concern of the ACLU, any use of solitary confinement for unjustified purposes, and we intend to stay connected and to keep a close eye on the facility.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268


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