Tacoma, Washington — Today, news broke of a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Washington State with approximately 50 people participating to protest their incarceration at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. Hunger strikers then spelled out the distress signal, SOS, in the yard of the detention center with their own bodies to reflect the emergency they are facing and demand ICE release them from detention immediately.
Today’s hunger strike marks the third to occur at the facility in just three weeks, following over 60 immigrant women who were on strike last week and prior to that, 300 people were on strike at the facility the first week of April. A rise in hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center and in detention centers across the country underscores the panic and desperation people feel as concerns over COVID-19 infection intensify.
“For the past month we have been ringing the alarm bell to release all people from detention 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.”
People on hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center are demanding:
- To be released from detention immediately. The SOS distress signal is our desperate call for help from every elected official to respond and do whatever they can to get us out now. Our lives are in imminent danger and we do not want to die in detention. This is an emergency.
- We call on ICE to stop lying. ICE is actively hiding information from the public on the dire situation in immigration detention and the people inside who are bravely speaking out against it with hunger strikes. There have been three hunger strikes at NWDC alone in the past three weeks, and we will continue to go on hunger strike until everyone is released from NWDC and safe from being exposed to COVID-19.
“In the last three weeks there have been 16 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.
“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.”
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.