Supporters Rally Outside Facility as Over 410 Immigrants Begin Refusing Meals
April 10, 2017
Tacoma, WA – Over 410 immigrants incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) refused their lunch, launching a hunger strike to protest their treatment inside the immigration prison. The Tacoma, Washington facility, located on a superfund site, is the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast, caging over 1500 immigrants who are facing civil deportation proceedings. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with the GEO Group, a multinational private prison corporations, to run the facility, and hunger strikers aimed their demands at both the federal government and the private contractor. The NWDC has been a frequent target of immigrant activists since a March 2014 hunger strike involving 1200 detainees first brought international notoriety to the immigration prison.
A demand letter that circulated around the facility prior to the launch of the strike (attached) echoed many of the concerns raised in the 2014 strike, and includes demands for more expedited hearings, improved quality of food, improved access to medical care, and lowering of exorbitant commissary prices (strikers note that already over-inflated prices on commissary items have recently doubled). Additionally, hunger strikers are asking for an increase in the $1 a day they currently receive for running all of the prison’s basic services. Some have even been denied the $1/day payment, and have been given a bag of chips in exchange for several nights of waxing the prison’s floors.
Community members, including members of Northwest Detention Center Resistance, a group that has supported those held at the NWDC since the 2014 hunger strike, planned to rally at the facility beginning at noon, seeking to bring public attention to the activists striking inside the facility. “Detention conditions were already terrible under Obama, and from what we’re hearing, they’ve gotten even worse since Trump’s election. We know from past hunger strikes that ICE and GEO are quick to retaliate, and we want the hunger strikers to know that they are not alone.”
English Transcript of the April 10, 2017 letter:
The motive that we write this is to ask you by favor that we all participate united, and on Monday April 10, 2017, from noon and on we will not eat, or use the phones, neither will we bunk up on the late night count or lights out. The objective is to reach some changes in the institution which are the following:
- Change the food (menu)
- Lower the commissary (reasonable pries)
- Better hygiene (with the clothes)
- Increase rec-time
- Bring programs such as: school and program to keep our heads occupied and avoid depression mentally
- Better medical attention
- Increase wages for working detainees (waxing floors, painting, cleaning, cooking, laundry)
- Facilitate court proceedings (speed up the process).
Please we ask for our help and participation. Because it is not just for them to treat out the way they want without them respecting our rights! And if we speak up we don’t speak up we’ll always be the same. Thank you!
Northwest Detention Center Resistance, took several phone calls by the detainees inside that confirmed the growing number of those incarcerated who were observing the hunger strike which was an estimated 410 people in 9 pods at 7:00pm. Four of those pods are also engaging in a work stoppage.
This marks the fourth such hunger strike that has taken place inside and one that took place outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. During the first series of three hunger strikes in 2014, the Colectiva de Detenidos was established. Organizers included Ramon Mendoza-Pascual, Paulino Ruiz, J. Cipriano Rios Alegria and others who remained inside demanded that the United States: 1) Stop Deportations, 2) Allow bond so that they could fight their cases in their homes with their children, 3) End deportations for parents of children or spouses of citizens, 4) Resolve cases more quickly, whether it is asylum or other cases, with a reasonable bond amount.
The hunger strikers in 2014 noted,
many people are in the detention center without bond and without any resolution of their asylum or other type of case, many times for months without the right to a bond because they are subject to mandatory detention. Without a bond we spend months, even 1 to 2 years locked up without knowing what’s going to happen to us and our families and without being able to economically support our families, causing them to fall deeper into poverty or uncertainty, without knowing what will happen with our future or that of our U.S. citizen children and spouses. (NWDC Resistance list of demands)
They further argued, “We believe that we deserve the opportunity to demonstrate that we want to be in this country legally and to contribute to this country” and emphasized that they were on hunger strike for their families’ sake.
In 2014, Hunger strike leaders inside the detention center faced retaliation by GEO guards. Paulino Ruiz was transferred to a far away detention center in hopes of quelling the uprising, and Ramon Mendoza Pasqual and J. Cipriano Rios Alegria were both held in solitary confinement as the hunger strikes continued twice more inside the detention center, and a forth time outside of the detention center by Ramon Mendoza Pascual’s wife Veronica Noriega in an encampment that took place in the fall of 2014.
Throughout the years, NWDC Resistance formed in the context of the 2014 hunger strikes has remained true to the folks inside. The NWDC Resistance is a confluence of immigrant stakeholders including detainees, their families, immigrant rights activists, immigration lawyers, faith communities, and advocacy organizations. Their unique inside/outside organizing approach demonstrated the complexity and the coordination that it took to place a tremendous amount of pressure upon the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, and the private prison contracting firm GEO. In their own words,
NWDC Resistance is a volunteer community group that came together to stop deportations earlier this year at the now infamous Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA under the Not1more campaign umbrella, and which then supported three hunger strikes organized by immigrants detained there calling a stop to deportations and better treatment and conditions. (NWDC Resistance)
The role of the Hunger Strike in the context of Food Justice and Economic Democracy, perhaps will be the most difficult connection for most readers to make. In the simplest terms, the food chain cycle ends the moment you place your eating utensil in your mouth. A hunger strike, by an organized group of people, disrupts the final stage of the capitalist food system supply chain. Similar to the strikes and boycott of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, which disrupt the supply chain on the production and consumer ends, the hunger strike seeks to change production relations within the closed-circuit economy of the capitalist food system as it intersects with the Prison Industrial Complex by disrupting the circuit at its very end, where fork meets mouth.
The historical context is that hunger strikers at both the California Prisons and at the Detention Centers across the country went on hunger strikes respectively in 2013 and 2014, sought to change the quality of and their access to food. Inmates and detainees included in their lists of demands the exorbitant cost of commissary and the diminishing and low quality food rations. Immigration detainees reported earning as low as a dollar a day, and state and federal prisoners made cents on the dollar for their indentured labor that provides a meager income that they can only spend on commissary. The third connection is that it is through incarceration and detention that food chain workers are often forced to accept lower wages in the free labor market because of their criminalized status or time away from work. As I mention above, Food Justice can be very complex while remaining very basic as the slogan, “We are Human” implies.
Today in 2017, the issue is still very current, especially in the context of the new regime of Donald Trump in the United States of America. Last week, prisoners held in Riverside California announced that they will hold a hunger strike beginning April 13, 2017 (Riverside, CA Prison Hunger Strike). On April 4, 2017, five nurses who were fired from their long term positions by the State Secretary of Health in Chiapas, Mexico began a hunger strike that continues to this day (Nurses Hunger strike). The international demand for basic human dignity is fought for through refusing the capitalist food system at the most basic level, through a hunger strike.
NWDC Resistance, a grassroots community organization plans to hold a peaceful vigil outside the detention center to demand the safety and dignified treatment of those inside. Community lawyers connected to Northwest Detention Center Resistance are being dispatched to assure that they are fairly treated. No other organization has the authorization to support the detainees at this point.
This post will be updated as more information comes through.
(Updated 4/10/2017 7:00pm PST)