For the second time in three years—and for the first time since President Donald Trump ordered a nationwide immigration crackdown—inmates at the privately-run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison in Tacoma, Wash., are protesting conditions there with a hunger strike.
Approximately 100 of the 1,500 inmates at the facility refused lunch today and will continue to refusing meals, according to NWDC Resistance, an activist group that led a 2014 hunger strike involving 1,200 inmates. Activists are also rallying outside the prison today.
According to an unsigned press release from NWDC Resistance, a letter with inmates' demands circulated prior to the strike and echoed concerns from the 2014 strike, including:
expedited hearings, improved quality of food, improved access to medical care, and lowering of exorbitant commissary prices (strikers note that already over-inflated prices on commissary items have recently doubled). Additionally, hunger strikers are asking for an increase in the $1 a day they currently receive for running all of the prison’s basic services. Some have even been denied the $1/day payment, and have been given a bag of chips in exchange for several nights of waxing the prison’s floors.
ICE and GEO Group, the private prison contractor that manages NWDC, are targeted by a federal lawsuit in Colorado alleging slave labor practices not unlike those described by the Washington State activists. The activists' announcement continues:
“Detention conditions were already terrible under Obama, and from what we’re hearing, they’ve gotten even worse since Trump’s election. We know from past hunger strikes that ICE and GEO are quick to retaliate, and we want the hunger strikers to know that they are not alone.”
An ICE regional spokesperson told WW she was looking in to the matter. This post will be updated with ICE's response when the agency provides one.
Update 4:20 pm: ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson supplied the following statement regarding the "purported 'hunger strike' at the Northwest Detention Center." The linked ICE guidelines, dated Dec. 2008, do provide for "involuntarily feed[ing]" after an inmate goes 72 hours without food.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care. Individuals at all ICE facilities have access to meals served three times daily at the cafeteria, and the Northwest Detention Facility also provides snacks and/or food available for purchase from a commissary. If individuals are found to go without eating for 72 hours, they will become subject to the agency’s protocols for handling hunger strikes – see link. Individuals on a hunger strike will continue to be offered three meals daily and provided an adequate supply of drinking water or other beverages. They will also be counseled about the related medical risks.
ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference and does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers.”