Detainees in Tacoma's private immigration prison are offering solidarity to immigrants separated from their children at the southern border.
At least 170 detainees at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma began a three-day hunger strike Saturday, according to NWDC Resistance, an organization that advocates for the detainees in the facility.
NWDC Resistance holds regular Saturday actions outside the detention center. During this weekend's action, the group received word by phone that the hunger strike had begun inside the detention center.
According to an announcement from NWDC Resistance, "The people detained in the NWDC are appalled by what has been done to parents and their children at the border. They want those families released immediately from detention and reunited, and then all the parents detained at the NWDC released."
In Texas, some immigrant mothers separated from their children are reportedly also engaging in hunger strikes to demand calls with their children.
Detainees at the NWDC plan to strike for three days, skipping at least nine meals. According to NWDC Resistance, detainees said Saturday's lunch was "a small bag of chips, 4 cookies, and one slice of white bread."
The NWDC holds about 1,500 immigrant detainees. GEO Group, a private prison company, operates the detention center. Neither GEO Group nor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immediately responded to a request for comment. UPDATE: ICE disputes NWDC Resistance's claims about a hunger strike. In a statement, ICE said that as of Monday, 41 people in one housing unit at the NWDC had declined consecutive meals. Because detainees "may also purchase food through the center’s commissary," this "does not constitute a hunger strike," the agency's statement said.
The agency said it "fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference" and "does not retaliate in any way." ICE's hunger strike policies state that any detainee who does not eat for 72 hours will be evaluated by medical staff.
Advocates have long decried the conditions inside the Northwest Detention Center. Detainees inside the facility and activists with NWDC Resistance have launched multiple hunger strikes in recent years to protest various conditions, including long delays in immigration hearings, commissary prices, cafeteria food, the lack of contact visits, wages, and what they say is substandard mental and physical healthcare.
In the past, ICE has disputed advocates' claims about hunger strikes in Tacoma, sometimes saying the actions don't qualify as hunger strikes because detainees still buy food from the commissary and other times denying that detainees are refusing meals at all.
Advocates for people detained in the NWDC say detainees can face retaliation for hunger strikes. A lawsuit filed earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington alleges that a guard punched a hunger striker at the NWDC in the eye and the detainee was then placed in solitary confinement. In statements to the Tacoma News Tribune in February, ICE declined to comment and GEO Group denied the allegations.