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  • Ansel Herz
  • A hand-made poster hangs outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma during a protest in solidarity with detainees on hunger strike in August.

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The Colectivo de Detenidos (Collective of Detainees), a group of men and women jailed on immigration-related charges at the privately-run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, was given the Seattle Human Rights Commission's Human Rights Leaders Organization award on Wednesday night.

Sarah Bishop, one of the commission's co-chairs, told me today the commissioners were "thrilled" to recognize the Colectivo—marking the first time the HRC has given the award to people fighting for human rights from behind bars. The commission has called on the City Council to divest from GEO Group, the prison company that operates the detention center. Bishop added that before the federal government awards any new contract for the facility, there should be an immediate investigation into human rights violations at the facility.

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  • Olli Tumelius
  • Jose Moreno, a former detainee at the NWDC, and immigration activist Maru Mora-Villalpando accept the award alongside commission co-chair Sarah Bishop.

"The Colectivo has organized three hunger strikes this year alone, involving hundreds of immigrant detainees," according to the introduction for the award read during Wednesday's ceremony at Town Hall. The first hunger strike was in March, there was another during the summer, and another one was staged in October.

"These strikes have given a human face to the difficulties that immigrant detainees face," the commission said, "which include $1 wages for a full day’s work, inadequate food, and the denial of blankets, sheets, and even clothes for those who speak out against the poor conditions."

The Colectivo has "overcome extraordinary challenges," the commission noted, including prohibitions on talking to one another, passing notes, and watching news of the hunger strike, as well as retaliation from prison authorities in the form of solitary confinement and sped-up deportation proceedings.

Because none of the members were able to be present, Maru Mora Villapando, an undocumented immigrant and badass activist, and Jose Moreno, a former detainee who's since been released, accepted the award on their behalf.

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But the commission played an audio recording of Paulino Ruiz, who is currently jailed at the NWDC, thanking them for the award. "Our immigrant rights are violated not only in this detention center, but across this beautiful nation," he said. "I stand for my people… for all immigrants, all colors, shape, and gender... They may deprive us from our rights, but never will they deprive us from our freedom of will to stand up and fight for our rights," he said.

Matt Remle, who pushed for Indigenous People's Day in Seattle, received the individual award, and the Black Students Union from Garfield High received the Rising Human Rights Leaders award.