An anti-detention group spokeswoman says as many as 750 detainees are refusing meals at the privately run Northwest Detention Center.
TACOMA — Female detainees have joined in a hunger strike to protest conditions at the 1,500-bed Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, an anti-detention activist said Thursday.
Maru Mora Villalpando, a spokeswoman for NWDC Resistance, a group run by detainees, said as many as 750 detainees are refusing meals at the privately run detention center.
The strike was in its fourth day on Thursday with no sign of ending despite ongoing negotiations between detainees, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the GEO Group, the prison contractor that operates the facility.
Detainees are reportedly protesting 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 an increase in the $1 a day they are paid for performing menial jobs around the detention center.
The strike has been led by the anti-detention group NWDC Resistance, which is composed of detainees and seeks to end all immigration-related detentions.
A handful of supporters are staying in a makeshift shelter of plastic tarps and blankets just outside the gates of the detention center, a sprawling, fenced facility located in Tacoma’s tideflats. The center houses as many as 1,500 civil detainees who are awaiting immigration hearings or deportation.
Among the supporters Thursday was Alexis Erickson, 23, who said her husband, Cristian Lopez, was picked up by ICE three months ago and deported to Mexico earlier this week. She claimed her husband had been mistreated while being held at the detention center.
On Wednesday, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency would release specifics on the number of detainees who had refused food for 72 hours or nine meals in a row, triggering a hunger-strike protocol and a medical response.
However, on Thursday Kice said those numbers were not yet available and that the agency was still trying to determine which detainees are participating in the strike.
She said the agency had postponed implementing the protocol while that determination was being made. Eventually, detainees who continue to refuse to eat will be isolated so they can be monitored, Kice said.
“The situation is very fluid,” she said. “Detainees who formally declare their intention to undertake a hunger strike will be transferred to a dedicated housing unit so they can be closely monitored to ensure their welfare.”
Kice said the number of detainees who refuse to eat continues to fluctuate between meals.
She said all detainees engaged in the hunger strike will continue to be offered three meals daily and provided an adequate supply of drinking water or other beverages.
Villalpando said Thursday that negotiations between the detainees, ICE and the GEO Group — which initially had been promising — were not successful.
She said that detainees — who have been in routine touch with family members and supporters by phone and emails — voted pod by pod for the most part to continue the strike.
In the meantime, Villalpando said strikers were complaining of retaliation through transfers to other facilities and being placed in isolation. There was no independent verification of those incidents.
She said one group of striking detainees complained that at lunch on Thursday they were offered chicken for the first time in months. Most meals, they say, consist of rice and beans.
Villalpando believes the meal was prepared to mock the strikers.
“It’s just cruel,” she said.
Kice called the accusation “specious” and said menus are prepared weeks in advance.