Tacoma, WA – As supporters looked on, approximately 130 people held at the Northwest Detention Center were taken from the facility this morning as part of its weekly deportation regime. At least five hunger strikers were among those deported, according to an attorney who visited the facility on Sunday.
A hunger strike supporter holding a vigil outside the center observed two buses leaving at 3 a.m. under cover of darkness. Supporters who arrived at dawn to offer witness to the deportations watched six more vehicles, marked “GEO Transport,” (five buses and a van) leaving the center. In what has become a new tactic since the February 24th action that stopped 120 deportations, the buses themselves were used to block supporters from seeing people loaded in chains. Despite these efforts, supporters lined the sidewalk as the buses pulled out, making eye contact with those inside the buses, and chanting, “You are not alone!” and “The struggle continues!”
Hunger striker Salvador Chavez Salazar, who first arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15, was among those deported this morning. The 29-year-old father of two U.S. citizen children was held in the detention center for two and a half months following a DUI arrest. In a recording made on the eve of his deportation (audio and translation available upon request), he described his fifteen years of labor in the U.S., which included landscaping, picking cherries, onions, and apples, and gathering forest items in the forests outside his Aberdeen, WA home. He explained why he participated in both waves of the hunger strike despite knowing he would most likely be deported, stating, “It is an injustice for all of us who are locked up in here,” and expressing hope that his actions would benefit future detainees. He described facing deportation with only the clothes on his back, despite having put in a request to ICE for his family to bring him a suitcase with fifteen days notice. He also described how the facility continues to profit even after deportations, explaining that the money on detainees’ phone accounts is not returned to them. His greatest grief at leaving his home was for the harm to his 4-year-old US-citizen daughters: “Deportations, they affect the children the most, that’s the truth. Almost everyone who is here, all of the people here are fathers with families.”
This weekly round of deportations at the NWDC comes as Ramon Mendoza Pascual and J. Cipriano Rios Alegria continue their hunger strike in medical isolation, under solitary confinement sentences. The link between their peaceful protest and their confinement became even clearer last Friday, when Mr. Mendoza was asked if he would end his hunger strike in exchange for being returned to the general population. He declined. He has now been on hunger strike for 35 out of the last 39 days, protesting the on-going deportations and the deplorable detention center conditions.