1200 Jailed Immigrants on Hunger Strike
Resisting Record Deportations and Inhumane Conditions
Eyewitness Report by Joe Sonntag
On Friday, March 7, immigrant rights activists announced that an estimated 1200 detainees at the Northwest Detention Center launched a hunger strike to protest the record number of deportations of Latin Americans under the Obama administration, inhumane immigration policy in the U.S., and poor conditions inside the detention center. The Northwest Detention Center is one of the largest detention centers of undocumented immigrant workers in the U.S.
The presence of demonstrators outside the prison at the February 24th #Not1More deportation protest inspired the prisoners to launch the hunger strike. The hunger strikers timed their action to begin on a Friday because every Friday the people facing imminent deportation are separated and processed for deportation – weekly events that contribute to the nearly 2,000,000 deportations under the Obama administration.
It is very difficult to get information about what is going on inside the detention center. It is believed that hundreds of the inmates were still continuing the hunger strike as of March 11, although corporate media outlets have claimed that fewer people are on hunger strike than what activists report.
Four of the inside organizers have been put into “the tank” to keep them out of communication with other prisoners. The authorities are trying to divide people up and convince them individually that the strike is over. They have also threatened the food-strikers with forced feeding.
The demonstration on Tuesday included many Spanish speaking families, some of whom are relatives of detainees. There was a march along the road next to the prison, with signs and vigorous chants, with the hope that the detainees would be able to hear them and know that “no estan solos!” (You are not alone!) Prison employees were preparing to load a bus with those to be deported today. Some of the demonstrators were considering blocking the bus.
The Northwest Detention Center is owned and run by GEO Corporation, the second largest corporation of its kind in the U.S. It is located in an industrial area in north Tacoma, in view of Mt. Rainier and the Tacoma Dome, neither of which the inmates ever see, however, since there are either no windows in their “pod,” or if there are windows, they are too high up for anyone to be able to look out.
The detainees, who by law are not allowed to work at regular jobs in the U.S., are now forced to work inside the prison: cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, etc. on a daily basis. Their wage is only $1 per day (that is not a misprint!), so that no one can legally charge this private corporation of re-establishing slavery in the U.S. One of the signs carried by a demonstrator read “Egimos $15/hr. para los detenidos!” (We demand $15 an hour for the detainees!)
The prisoners have put their bodies on the line and are demanding better living conditions inside the prison, specifically:
– Healthy food
– Better pay
– Medical care
The prisoners are also demanding changes to U.S. immigration policy, specifically:
– Stop all deportations
– Stop holding prisoners for months and years with no resolution
– Scrap the impossible bond requirements of $10,000 – $50,000