Tacoma, WA – As the hunger strikers prepare to enter the third week of their protest fast at the Northwest Detention Center, US Rep. Adam Smith, accompanied by aides for Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Susan DelBene and local elected officials, Sens. Jeanne Darneille and Steve Conway and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland visited the facility this afternoon. Rep. Smith and the aide for Rep. DelBene met with the detained men leading the hunger strike, including Ramon Mendoza Pascual and Jesus Gaspar Navarro. The other officials were led on a guided tour of the facility by ICE field office director Natalie Asher, after placing their personal belongings in lockers side-by-side with family members arriving for visitation with their loved ones.
Last week Rep. Smith expressed his concern with the detention center, focusing on ICE’s unwillingness to answer his inquiries about the bond process, length of detention, and nutrition standards. He said in a statement released on March 14: “I have heard from many constituents that are relatives, friends, and advocates of those detained at the NWDC, who still have many unanswered questions.”
He came away from his visit today with grave concerns about the way the profit motive operates in the detention facility. He called the commissary prices, one of the hunger strikers’ concerns, “exorbitant.” In his remarks upon leaving the facility, he also highlighted his concern that audits on the facility are not available to Congress or the public, as well as the devastation that detention and deportation create for families.
GEO Group, the self described “world’s leading provider” of private prisons, owns and operates the Tacoma facility as well as the Conroe, TX immigration facility where a related hunger strike began this Monday. The demands of the hunger strikers at both locations relate to GEO’s profit-making, and include asks to increase the quality and quantity of the facilities’ food, lower the prices at the commissaries, and increase the $1 per day wages given to detainees, who currently provide the primary source of labor for the functioning of the facilities.
Outside the facility gates Cong. Smith met with the families of Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Gaspar, as well as with Jose Moreno, a hunger strike leader who was recently released. They had gathered there with other supporters who come together each afternoon near the main gates of the facility to register their support for those who are fasting and to talk with families as they arrive to visit with their loved ones inside.