Rising trend: Immigrants protest their incarceration with hunger strikes at ICE detention centers across the country

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, October 21, 2019

Tacoma, Washington — Today, more than 100 people detained at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) entered their fourth day on hunger strike from inside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility operated by GEO Group. This is the 14th hunger strike to occur this year alone (see list of hunger strikes below) that immigrant rights’ advocates are aware of in over nine states, indicating the rising use of hunger strikes as a protest tactic to denounce immigration detention.

“The ongoing and increasing number of hunger strikes at facilities across the country underscores the urgent need to release people from ICE custody,” said Maru Mora Villalpando, member of La Resistencia, a group that supports people inside NWDC and is calling for the facility’s closure. “We’ve seen the rising trend play out locally in Washington State, with this current hunger strike becoming the 19th we’ve documented at NWDC in the past five years.”

La Resistencia spoke with a hunger striker on Friday who provided specific details on the abuses they face and the demands they are calling for in the following statement:

“We are tired of eating garbage, finding maggots, and other things in the food. GEO and ICE don't do anything, they take the report and then they say “everything has been fixed”, yet we continue finding maggots in the food. GEO guards mistreat us, they yelled at us, in some instances they have assaulted people here. Some people are afraid of them, but mostly we are tired of being treated that way. We also want to do something for you all, we want to support the efforts outside to shut down this place.”

Hunger strikers’ demands often underscore well-documented issues endemic to the detention system, including: abusive treatment by ICE, deplorable conditions, fatal medical neglect and a lack of due process rights. The reports of what people experience inside detention, however, are in stark contrast to the political propaganda putout by the Trump administration and ICE in an effort to conceal abuses and stifle the voices of those who speak out.

“We know that ICE regularly lies, actively hides information from the public and retaliates against anyone who speaks out,” added Mora Villalpando. “Just last month ICE held a first of its kind media tour at NWDC in response to the overwhelming evidence of abuse at the facility. Even when they try to make the facility shine again like new, they can’t mask the hunger strikers’ demands or the devestating suicide of Amar Mergansana or the everyday trauma of being separated from loved ones.”

The rise in hunger strikes coincides with the massive expansion of the detention system. Since Trump took office, the system has grown by more than 40 percent with over 50,000 people behind bars, while ICE’s budget has grown by more than 30 percent.

“ICE’s budget continues to grow and yet, people are still dying in detention and going on hunger strikes to protest their incarceration. That should tell you that the problem isn’t the need for better conditions or bigger budgets, the problem is the agency itself and the detention system it operates,” said Liz Castillo, Organizer at Detention Watch Network. “We stand in solidarity with the bold and courageous protests of hunger strikers on the inside, as we fight like hell on the outside to expose, upend and ultimately abolish immigration detention.”

Known hunger strikes in 2019: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_ASrOZj-tHJqDqj08OJdHMQ5YUzZDykWR8BN...

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La Resistencia (formerly NWDC Resistance) is a grassroots, multiracial abolitionist group. It is an unincorporated association founded to confront human rights violations at the Northwest Detention Center and dedicated to ending the detention and deportation of immigrants.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.