SEATTLE, WA – As the hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center enters its third week, senior officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) met this morning in the federal agency’s Seattle office with the three-person negotiation team designated by the hunger strikers. The gathering came one full week after the negotiation team’s request for a meeting with ICE to discuss hunger striker’s demands. The meeting was held 30 miles north of the facility where hunger strike leaders Ramon Mendez Pascual and Jesus Gaspar Navarro are currently on day 15 of their fast.
During the meeting, the negotiation team delineated each of the hunger striker’s demands, including improved conditions at the detention center, increased access to bond to secure release, and an end to deportations. ICE asked for additional time to address the striker’s demands for decreased phone rates, increased phone quality, and decreased commissary prices. For-profit company Talton Communications is contracted by ICE to provide phone services at the facility, and Keefe Group is sub-contracted by the GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the facility, to stock the detention center’s commissary. Maru Mora Villalpando, a member of the negotiations team notes, “The fact that it’s not just GEO Group, but at least two other companies holding contracts at this federal facility only highlights how every aspect of the hunger striker’s detention is exploited for profit.” She added, “While we are heartened by ICE’s willingness to look into these issues, every day that passes without changes in place further puts the hunger strikers’ health at risk.”
The negotiation team echoed U.S. Rep Adam Smith’s request for ICE and GEO Group to disclose audits of the facility, with the negotiation team making a call for an independent community audit. “Given the abuses the hunger strike has revealed, it is clear that we cannot allow ICE and GEO to police themselves,” noted Mora Villalpando.
The strike at the Northwest Detention Center has inspired a similar action in Texas, where 120 detainees began a hunger strike this past Monday. Alarming reports of retaliation, including hunger strikers disappearing from their cells and others being forced to sign deportation orders have emerged from the GEO Group owned Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, TX.