Hunger Strike at West Coast's Largest Immigration Detention Center
TACOMA, Wash. - More than 400 immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma are holding a three-day hunger strike to protest conditions in the facility.
The Northwest Detention Center, the largest facility for detained immigrants on the West Coast, is owned by the private prison group GEO.
Maru Mora Villalpando, co-founder and organizer of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, said the people on strike want better access to medical care and lower commissary prices, and that they are protesting having their court dates postponed for months, in some cases. She also said food portions have been reduced as numbers in the facility have swelled.
"When people detained have complained to GEO," she said, "they say, 'Well, there's too many of you. This is not our fault.'"
The protest began with 100 strikers on Monday and has grown to calls for work stoppage in the facility. Numbers in the detention center have increased because of the Trump administration's ramped-up immigration policy, which the president says is necessary to keep the country safe.
More than 1,500 people in the center are facing deportation proceedings, according to Villalpando. The demands of those striking now echo the demands of a hunger strike from 2014 at the center, which involved around 1,200 detainees. Villalpando said an outcry from the public over conditions in the center is the greatest defense for the people detained there.
"If people are willing to go on this hunger strike, if people are willing to lose not only their health but also probably their cases," she said, "then we need to pay attention and we need to do something outside, and change the culture that has permitted and normalized this massive deportation system."
Villalpando said Immigration and Customs Enforcement has responded to the strikes by canceling daily immigration hearings.