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Resistance is non-stop at Tacoma detention center

Marú Mora Villalpando  |  Issue: November | December 2018

TACOMA, WA – At the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), detainees continue organizing and resisting, despite threats and retaliation every time they start a hunger strike. This current hunger strike began August 21 in solidarity with the National Prison Strike demanding better conditions, humane treatment and the recognition that people imprisoned are workers too and should be treated and paid as such.

At NWDC, this latest strike was met with harsh and immediate retaliation: A whole unit, known as a “pod,” was dismantled after nearly 70 people went on strike.

As of late October, five of them remained in indefinite segregation as a punishment and one person has gone without eating for 49 days demanding his immediate release.

In response to the threats and retaliation, a group of lawyers, including the Whatcom County Civil Rights Project, filed a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in September. This was to prevent ICE from attempting to force feed at least one person on hunger strike, and to stop threats and intimidation against hunger strikers.

The hearing was canceled the same day it was supposed to occur, and the TRO was denied by Judge Benjamin H. Settle. According to the judge, ICE is not the authority for making this kind of decisions at the NWDC. Instead the lawsuit should be against Geo Group.

Attorney Edward S. Alexander said, “ICE cannot delegate these responsibilities, and in ICE and defendants’ response to plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order, ICE states that “[t]he ICE Health Services Corps (IHSC) is the entity within ICE that provides direct patient care to immigration detainees.”

Lawyers also received a document ICE filed in court and noticed a footnote where ICE requested and obtained orders allowing them to impose “involuntary medical monitoring, [involuntary] hydration or [involuntary feeding] … on at least six occasions in this district, including from this court.” The footnote also says those documents have been sealed.

During the strike, an outbreak of varicella (chickenpox) was reported, the second one of the year. This latest outbreak was first reported on September 7 and 19. In mid-September, several detainees reported that everyone who went to the medical unit in the morning for non-varicella related illnesses were placed by mistake in a waiting room with people who had been exposed to the virus.

And if this wasn’t enough, a fire broke out on September 17 at the Simon Metals scrap metal yard just 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) from the NWDC. It lasted from 2 a.m. to 4 p.m. Air quality was declared unsafe. The Tacoma Fire Department tweeted: “If in the area, caution should be used to avoid inhaling fumes.”

In less than a month NWDC has seen continued hunger strikes, medical neglect exposing hundreds of people detained to varicella, and exposure to harmful chemicals due to a fire at the Simon Metals metal recycling plant.

Those detained are fighting. Yet they can’t do it by themselves. They need our support, side by side, recognizing their leadership and their expertise. Resistance inside the detention center won’t stop – and neither should we – until this place and all places like it are shut down forever.

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