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Cubans on Hunger Strike at Northwest Detention Center

There have been five hunger strikes at Tacoma's Northwest Detention Center this year. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
There have been five hunger strikes at Tacoma's Northwest Detention Center this year. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
August 30, 2017

TACOMA, Wash. - Fourteen Cubans seeking asylum and detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma are on a hunger strike and calling for their release. They have refused food and water since Sunday.

Maru Mora Villalpando, an organizer for the group Northwest Detention Center Resistance, said the asylum-seekers passed a screening finding they had "credible fear" of reprisal if they returned to Cuba, a step toward proving their need to stay in the United States. However, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has yet to release them.

"They have been told that they will be released on parole, but even though two to three months have passed, they are still detained," she said. "What they're calling for is immediate release; they want their freedom."

In January, President Obama ended a policy known as "wet foot, dry foot," which allowed any Cuban who reached U.S. soil to stay here. That policy ended as part of reopening diplomatic ties between the two nations. Since the policy ended, ICE had detained more than 1,300 Cubans coming across the border.

This is the fifth hunger strike at the detention center this year. Villialpando said long detainments have become commonplace at the Tacoma facility.

"We just received a call from a person in detention that has been detained for four years and three months now, on appeals," she said, "and so, this is a common thread right now, where we see a bigger push to have not only more people detained, but also as long as possible."

At deadline for this story, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said no hunger strike was under way because the detainees hadn't yet gone 72 hours without food. After 72 hours, agency protocols for hunger strikes will go into place. Villalpando said the detainees already have received threats that they will be force-fed.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA