Desperation in Detention: The number of hunger strikes grow, as people protest their incarceration amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus 

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, April 6, 2020

Washington, DC — Today, news broke of a hunger strike at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island that began on Saturday with approximately 60 people participating, while across the country there are over 60 immigrant women who are on hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Washington state. Two weeks since the first person in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody tested positive for coronavirus, hunger strikes are growing across the country as people are refusing food amidst the fear of exposure.

“We are trapped,” said a person on hunger strike at the Wyatt detention center via a telephone conversation with Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken on April 5th. “You don’t know which way to turn around, who to speak to. God forbid, sooner or later, the corona[virus] is going to hit here.”

Full audio of the recorded telephone conversation with the Wyatt hunger striker on April 5th available here

“In the last three weeks there have been 10 confirmed hunger strikes nationwide as people in immigration detention are protesting their incarceration during a global pandemic,” said Bárbara Suárez Galeano, Organizing Director, Detention Watch Network. “People are bravely speaking out the only way they can — by refusing meals, knowingly weakening their immune systems.These are organized protests to demonstrate the level of desperation and fear that exists and the urgent need to be released from detention now.”

ICE’s shameful record of medical negligence, poor sanitation, and demonstrated inability to respond to past infectious disease outbreaks is detailed in a Detention Watch Network report, Courting Catastrophe: How ICE is Gambling with Immigrant Lives Amid a Global Pandemic

“For weeks we have been ringing the alarm bell to release people now,” said Maru Mora-Villalpando, organizer at La Resistencia, a group that supports people inside the Northwest Detention Center and is advocating for the closure of the facility. “The ongoing and increasing number of hunger strikes at facilities across the country underscores ICE’s record of neglect and the urgent need to release people from ICE custody now.”

“With COVID-19, we are seeing issues endemic to detention come to a head, like ICE’s fatally flawed medical care, unsanitary conditions that only worsen in times of crisis, and complete lack of transparency,” added Suárez Galeano. “Detention centers are hotbeds of infection. The government can and should release people now — our collective public health depends on it. People in detention are in grave danger and everyone that has the discretion to release people — the administration, local elected officials, ICE and other government agencies — will be complicit in the loss of life.”



Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit Follow @DetentionWatch.