Tacoma, WA—Five hundred people gathered on April 5th outside of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in order to call attention and offer support to the ongoing hunger strike inside. Organizers hosted workshops and discussions about the history of the detention center and the conditions detainees currently face, while people rallied, hearing from family members affected by deportation. At one point, hunger strikers called organizers of the event, and they were able to listen to the large crowd cheering them on from outside. Since Saturday, April 5, there have been at least 60 people on hunger strike in the detention center.
One hunger striker, Maria Cecilia Huaya Mara, offered this message to supporters: “I’ve been in the US for forty years. I’ve been in detention for two months. I went on a hunger strike for the first time to stop the deportations because I see all these women here, that have been here so long, being torn from their children. There’s tears every day, there’s so much suffering that it’s basically unbearable. The conditions in here are not fit for dogs, the food is mostly beans all day long, and it’s horrible, so I’m protesting that, and I thank everybody out there for their support.” (audio available upon request) The rally was part of a nation-wide series of actions in over 80 different cities on April 5 to call attention to the high numbers of deportations under the Obama administration. It is predicted that the administration will reach 2 million deportations during the month of April. Outside the NWDC, supporters placed 200 flowers, each flower representing 10,000 people deported.
Despite the release of 20 detainees from solitary confinement on April 4th, several hunger strikers remain in isolation. A campaign begins today calling for the release of Ramon Mendoza-Pascual, Jesus Cipriano Rios, Hassall Moses, and others from solitary confinement, with support from the National Day Laborers Organizing Network. Mr. Mendoza-Pascual has been on hunger strike for at least 24 days and was sentenced to 20 days in solitary for striking. Two hunger strikers are once again in medical isolation, and are facing threats of forced feeding. Army Veteran Hassall Moses, who has been in solitary confinement for at least 13 days, after being charged with inciting a work stoppage, said this about being in isolation: “I was put in here because I asked people to take part in a no working strike. Because if you want to make a difference, we are the backbone of this facility; not only in here, but out there, we are what makes America.” The full audio of Mr. Moses addressing his supporters is available upon request.
A press conference will be held on April 10 at 12:30 pm outside the Gates Foundation. Community organizations and Gates grantees are demanding divestment by the Gates Foundation from private prison companies, including the GEO Group, which operates the Northwest Detention Center. That same day, an indigenous solidarity group will gather at the immigration offices at 12500 Tukwila International Boulevard at 3:30 pm, calling for a rally, prayer and round dance to support indigenous immigrants detained in Tacoma and for an end to the criminalization of immigration.The hunger strikers continue to challenge the deplorable conditions at the facility, including the quality of food and pay of only $1 per day of work.