An anti-detention group run by detainees said negotiations with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the private prison contractor that operates the Northwest Detention Center have been promising.
Immigration officials acknowledged Wednesday that as many as a third of the detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma are refusing meals in protest of conditions at the 1,500-bed, privately run facility.
Virginia Kice, the regional spokeswoman for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Laguna Niguel, Calif., said the number of people refusing food at the center’s cafeteria has “fluctuated from meal to meal” but that approximately a third of the detainees are involved.
Meantime, activists who say they are in touch with the detainees reported some “positive signs” that the strike — going into its crucial third day — was getting the attention of Northwest Detention Center managers.
Maru Mora Villalpando, a spokeswoman for NWDC Resistance, an anti-detention group run by detainees, said negotiations between the detainees, ICE and the GEO Group, a private prison contractor which operates the facility, have been promising.
A letter purportedly circulated Monday by detainees and released by NWDC Resistance protests the quality of food, facility hygiene, access to medical care, lack of recreation and what they allege are exorbitant commissary prices. The detainees also are seeking more than the $1 a day they are paid for performing menial jobs around the detention center.
Villalpando said that some detainees who have been seeking medical or dental attention have received appointments, and ICE is promising to expedite immigration court hearings, which the detainees complain are frequently canceled or delayed.
They are also discussing the menu and the costs at the commissary, where detainees are allowed to purchase a few personal items.
Villalpando estimated that about 400 detainees were refusing meals, which roughly corresponds with the estimate of one-third of the detainees provided by ICE.
Kice said that beginning Thursday, ICE will provide specific figures on the number of detainees participating after the agency’s protocol for treating inmates on a hunger strike is triggered. Any inmate who has missed nine meals, or refused to eat for 72 hours, will be counted, she said.
That protocol places those inmates under medical watch and eventually allows the detention center to involuntarily treat any detainee whose health is threatened, she said. Inmates under the protocol will be monitored and their access to the center’s commissary will be denied so medical personnel can monitor their caloric intake, Kice said.
In the meantime, she said, ICE officials and representatives of the center continue to meet with detainees over a list of demands presented Monday when the strike began.
“Personnel from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations and The GEO Group continue to visit the housing units affected by the ongoing protest to discuss the detainees’ concerns,” Kice said in a statement Wednesday.
“ICE personnel are also ensuring detainees understand the medical risks associated with refusing food and the protocols that will be instituted should the threshold for a hunger strike be met.” she said.
As far as the $1-a-day pay rate, those jobs are “strictly voluntary” and the rate is set nationally in ICE’s National Performance Based Detention Standards, Kice said.