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More than 400 immigrants go on hunger and labor strike at Tacoma immigration prison in protest at conditions

Maru Mora Villalpando  |  Issue: May | June 2017

TACOMA, WA — Hundreds of detained immigrants stood up in rebellion in April at a corporate-run ICE facility here, going on a hunger and labor strike against their treatment. The government and corporate guards retaliated to try to break the movement.

The strike began on April 10, when more than 100 immigrants incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) refused their lunch, launching a hunger strike to protest their treatment inside the immigration prison.

Incarcerated immigrants are currently paid $1 a day to clean and provide upkeep for the facility, cook the meals and do the laundry.

By April 11, more than 400 people were refusing meals, with reports of strikes in nine different pods (housing units) throughout the facility. In at least four pods, the people detained also called for a work stoppage, throwing the immigration prison’s functions into chaos.

Community members and supporters set up an encampment at the gates of the facility, planning to stay and rally for the duration of the strike. They received constant updates from people detained as more pods joined the call to not eat, not to use the phones, and not to buy from the commissary.

Meanwhile, on the second day of the hunger strike, ICE moved forward with their planned Tuesday morning deportations, with two buses emblazoned with the GEO Group logo leaving the facility full of people.

Additionally, ICE canceled the daily immigration court hearings, attempting to break the unity and morale of the hunger strikeers by halting hearings for which some immigrants had waited months.

Hunger strikers also reported that GEO guards were blocking television access, barring strikers from watching news accounts of their efforts.

Despite the retaliation, the strike continued. Participant Alejandro Macías noted that losing his freedom emboldened him to strike, “We won’t give up, what else can they do to us? These abuses must end.”

Another hunger striker, detained artist Juan Manuel of the popular musical group Raza Obrera, has begun writing a song about the strike. It says, “We are united and we won’t stop, we need to be treated fairly. We are human beings, not animals.”

Editors note:

NWDC Resistance, a volunteer community group that emerged to fight deportations in 2014 at NWDC as part of the #Not1more campaign, said in a press release posted on Facebook on April 12:

“Detention conditions, already terrible under Obama, have worsened under Trump, triggering this latest strike [at NWDC].

“[…] Trump has staffed his immigration force with openly anti-immigrant officials with links to white-supremacist organizations, leaving people detained with little choice but to put their bodies on the line to fight for their basic dignity.

“[U.S.] Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ newly released memorandum calling for increased prosecutions of immigrants and their supporters, combined with a rollout where he referred to immigrants as ‘filth,’ only highlights the continued need for local fights responding to the federal deportation and detention dragnet.”

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