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Nine detainees still refusing meals at Tacoma immigration facility as protest hits 18th day


Nine detainees still refusing meals at Tacoma immigration facility as protest hits 18th day

Nov 28, 2023 | 6:03 pm ET
By Grace Deng
Nine detainees still refusing meals at Tacoma immigration facility as protest hits 18th day
A 'no trespassing' sign on a fence outside the Northwest Detention Center. (Grace Deng/Washington State Standard)

The seventh recorded hunger strike this year at a federal immigration detention center in Tacoma has gone from 105 detainees to nine, La Resistencia, a group that advocates for the facility’s closure said on Tuesday.

The hunger strike started at the Northwest Detention Center 18 days ago, with detainees protesting conditions there and demanding that they be released or deported. 

One detainee, Prmesh Uprety, said he stopped refusing meals after 11 days. When he spoke to the Standard on Nov. 20, he said he was still on strike, but some detainees had already stopped “because they could not stand the hunger.”

At least 25 of the original detainees on hunger strike were moved to solitary confinement, La Resistencia said. 

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights have reported that people are placed in solitary confinement at the facility for longer stretches than at any other site exclusively used to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees. Solitary confinement at the facility “is frequently used on detained people who are mentally ill and others who exercise their First Amendment rights,” the researchers said.

A private company, The GEO Group, runs the detention center on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It’s one of the largest immigrant detention facilities in the country and has long been controversial, with critics decrying how people held there are treated. The UW researchers have identified a number of other problems and troubling practices at the site, including worm-infested food, medical neglect, and sexual assaults.

Between Sept. 1, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2022, the facility had an average daily population of 374 detainees, according to a May report from the Department of Homeland Security. 

Uprety said that some detainees on strike have medical conditions that he believes should qualify them for release. He said ICE did not care about him and the other detainees’ health. 

“They’re worried their medical staff is going to be overwhelmed,” Uprety said while refusing meals. “They don’t care about whether we’re starving.” 

Release based on medical conditions or “other humanitarian considerations” is up to ICE’s discretion. 

Washington’s Legislature passed a law in 2021 aimed at shutting down the Northwest Detention Center by 2025, but the state decided the law was unenforceable in 2023 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a similar California law. 

In a previous statement to the Standard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it “is committed to ensuring that all those [in] its custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments.” The agency added that “due to privacy rules, ICE is prohibited from discussing individuals engaged in a hunger strike by name or specifics of their case absent the detainee’s consent.” 

The GEO Group said they have a “longstanding commitment to respecting the human rights of individuals in our care.”