Part of demand letter, in English. Photo courtesy NWDC Resistance

Part of demand letter, in English. Photo courtesy NWDC Resistance

Detainees Launch New Hunger Strike at Northwest Detention Center

At least 275 detained immigrants are refusing to eat to protest conditions at the ICE facility.

At noon on Monday, April 10, at least 275 people detained inside the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma refused their lunch, launching a hunger strike intended to last at least three days.

The detainees’ demands, circulated on a handwritten letter Monday, echo those made during the NWDC hunger strikes in 2014, which lasted nearly two months at a time and drew national attention. They include: Expedited immigration hearings, improvements to what’s been called “inedible” food, more reasonable commissary prices (which were already high, but recently doubled, strikers say), improved access to medical care, and an increase in the $1-per-day wage for detainee labor (which is not always paid, either, they say; sometimes they’re given a bag of chips instead).

The plan is to refuse food for at least three days because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “won’t recognize it as a hunger strike until they last 72 hours,” says Maru Mora Villalpando, one of the lead organizers of NWDC Resistance, a grassroots advocacy group that grew out of the 2014 hunger strikes.

As the group’s stated mission is to support the needs of those detained, volunteers rallied outside the facility Monday and plan to camp there until Wednesday. “We’re staying here the three days,” Villalpando adds, “not only because we want to know any directions from the people detained — what they want us to do — but we also want to witness if there’s any type of movement of GEO or ICE to retaliate.” (GEO Group, one of the largest private-prison companies in the nation, operates the NWDC.)

In 2014, detention center officials put hunger strikers in solitary confinement as punishment. Villalpando says if they do so again, “The first thing we do is we make it public.” Activists also have a legal team assembled to protect detainees’ rights to peaceful protest, should they need to. In 2014, after legal pressure from the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services, hunger strikers were released from solitary.

Villalpando hopes that the fact that the activists are outside watching will give GEO and ICE officers pause, though she is less convinced that appealing to the current federal administration will yield all that much. She says she recently returned from an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing in Washington, D.C., and for the first time in two decades of such meetings, the United States did not show up.

“For us, it was just another sign that we’re dealing with a fascist regime that doesn’t care about human rights,” she says. But that’s why she believes this kind of civil disobedience is so important. “At the end of the day, public opinion will make changes here.”

From time to time, a striker will call Villalpando and give her the update. She often puts the detainee on speaker phone so that he or she can hear the activists cheering outside, to show him or her that people care. “We’ll be here,” she says, “we’ll be here, whatever it is they decide.”

sbernard@seattleweekly.com




Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

A King County Sheriff’s Office photo of the crawlspace in which Urbano Velazquez was hiding when a K-9 unit was used. Sound Publishing file photo
King County settles $2 million dog bite lawsuit

The county agreed to pay $100,000 after being sued after a 2016 K-9 unit arrest.

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance
Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

Contributed by the Society for Conservation Biology 
A map showing the locations where plants have gone extinct in the U.S. and Canada since European settlers arrived.
Study: 65 plant species have gone extinct in U.S., Canada

More than 65 species of plants have gone extinct in the U.S.… Continue reading

File photo
Snow Lake, located near Snoqualmie Pass in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Washington releases new forest plan

It outlines ways the state will protect and maintain forest health.

Sage Viniconis is a career performing artist in King County who’s been out of work and seeking creative outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photo/Sage Viniconis
Puget Sound artists adapt creativity, and business sense, to pandemic

Artists Sunday is an online directory that connects artists across the county, state and nation.

Chris Fagan trekking across Antarctica in 2014. Contributed by Chris Fagan
South Pole or Bust

The story of a North Bend couple who trekked across Antarctica.

King County Council has nine members who each represent a district. Courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County Council passes $12.59 billion biennial budget

King County Council on Nov. 17 passed a $12.59 billion biennial budget… Continue reading

State Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) authored the letter to Gov. Jay Inslee. Mullet represents the 5th Legislative District. File photo
Democratic lawmakers ask Inslee to lift ban on indoor dining

They want to try to scaling back on occupancy before forcing an end to inside service.

Tim Eyman get in some last minute campaigning for I-976 in downtown Bellevue on the afternoon of Nov. 5, 2019. File photo
Eyman fights allegation he repeatedly broke campaign laws

In a lawsuit, the state accuses the prolific initiative promoter of getting kickbacks.

Kabal Gill, owner of East India Grill in Federal Way, wears gloves to hand over take-out orders at his restaurant. File photo
State halts indoor service at bars, restaurants, home guests

Amid soaring new coronavirus cases and an overburdened health care system, the state’s clamping down.

Screenshot from Gov. Jay Inslee’s news conference Nov. 12 with his wife, Trudi.
Inslee to hold news conference to announce new restrictions

Among them, reportedly, will be a ban on indoor service at restaurants and retail limitations.

Jay Inslee (D), left, and Loren Culp (R). File photo
Gov. Inslee surges to big lead as he nears rare third term

Statewide office roundup: Schools chief Reykdal in close contest; Secretary of State Wyman fends off challenge.