In Tacoma, Washington, hundreds of detainees are in the fourth day of an ongoing hunger strike to protest President Obama’s record deportations.
Advocates say that 1,200 detainees are participating in the hunger strike, which would be nearly the entire population of the Northwest Detention Center (1,300). The hunger strike will continue for at least five days and is likely to go on longer; some inside the facility are also launching a labor strike. In addition to protesting US deportation policy, the strikers are asking for better food, increased pay for detainee labor inside the facility, and better treatment by the guards.
Immigrants in detention centers are held for civil rather than criminal violations. The purpose of detention is to keep immigrants in custody until a decision can be reached about their immigration status; it is not meant to punish them. Yet immigrants regularly encounter abuse in these centers, and are exposed to bad food, solitary confinement, substandard medical care, and sexual assault. Some detainees also end up being held indefinitely. According to Reuters, the official average stay for detainees in the Northwest Detention Center is four months, but most wind up staying longer. One detainee was released after spending nearly two years inside the center.
Supporters of the strikers outside the detention center have been protesting every day in solidarity. Last month, immigration advocates went without food for 15 days outside the ICE facility in Phoenix, Arizona to protest family members there who were about to be deported.