Detainees launch hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center

Hunger strikers at the Northwest Detention Center protest inadequate healthcare within the facility amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Nola Thury, University of Puget Sound Advocates for Detained Voices                                                    

UPS Advocates for Detained Voices follows the leadership of La Resistencia, a local activism group that supports people detained in demanding an end to all detentions and deportations while bettering treatment and conditions.

Friday Mar 27, 2020, over 60 immigrant women detained at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) launched a hunger strike to protest the Center’s inadequate response to Covid-19. They demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and GEO Group, the for-profit corporation which privately owns and operates the NWDC, 1) Provide humanitarian temporary visas for those inside; 2) Reunite those detained with their families; 3) Stop all deportation and immigration proceedings until the pandemic has concluded. Since Mar 27, 300 people detained are estimated to have participated in subsequent hunger strikes.

One hunger striker spoke with La Resistencia by phone from inside the NWDC.”We want to be released because in here there’s no protection from the virus… We are on hunger strike because we know it’s not true that we will receive medical care here in NWDC”, they said. 

Detainees report that they are not given gloves, masks, or enough soap and sanitizer, social distancing is impossible within the Center.

“Everybody is in quarantine and we also have to do our part and be prepared, but all the spaces here… there are 12 beds in one place, for example. From wall to wall, there are 12 beds. Against the other wall, there are 12 beds. So we’re very close to each other. We are head to head. Head to head. You understand?”, said one detainee. 

Another detainee reports they are only offered three showers a week and that despite the heightened risk of disease within the facility, detainees continue only being paid one dollar a day. 

ICE and GEO maintain a lack of transparency and communication with people detained — guards have revoked the communication privileges of those who tried to call a radio station to spread information about the hunger strike, and they are not providing detainees with answers to their questions regarding safety and health. La Resistencia reports that doctors at the Center are performing fake tests for Covid-19, telling detainees 10 minutes after swabbing their noses that they tested negative for the virus. 

Detainees at the NWDC have performed hunger strikes in protest of poor conditions since 2014. Food served at Center has been documented to contain maggots, blood, and screws. Multiple outbreaks of mumps and varicella have also occurred within the facility in the past three years. 

The NWDC is located on the Tacoma Tideflats, a superfund site designated by the Environmental Protection Agency to be amongst the most dangerously polluted in the United States. Detainment at the Center has been documented to cause respiratory problems. This pre-morbidity puts detainees at the NWDC disproportionately at-risk of Covid-19.  

La Resistencia has amplified the demands of hunger strikers by organizing “honk-out” rallies outside of the Center, posting abolition artwork on social media, and emailing Governor Jay Inslee and ICE Field Office Director Nathalie Asher demanding that the hunger strikers’ needs are met. Maru Mora Villalpando is an organizer at La Resistencia. She says “Now more than ever we need all our people and resources to support detained hunger strikers who are protesting the serious threat of a COVID outbreak in detention centers.” (La Resistencia Facebook) Advocates for Detained Voices at UPS urges students to join the fight and make a difference by visiting this link from La Resistencia.