Tacoma, WA – As a result of the widespread attention to their cause, hunger strikers Ramon Mendoza Pascual and J. Cipriano Rios Alegria were released from solitary confinement on April 24th, and have been returned to the general population of the Northwest Detention Center. This release from solitary comes five days before the end of Mr. Rios’s solitary confinement sentence. In recognition of this victory, Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Rios have ended their strict hunger strike, and are now engaging in a partial fast. They continue to reject meals offered by the facility, but have begun drinking milk and eating small amounts of bread. As of yesterday, Mr. Mendoza had been on hunger strike for 44 of the last 49 days. He and Mr. Rios plan to continue their peaceful protest through May 1st, an international day of action that in recent years has been marked by massive immigrant protests in the U.S.
The actions of Mr. Mendoza, Mr. Pascual, and the hundreds of others who engaged in a hunger strike that began in the Tacoma facility on March 7th, have resulted in a national and international spotlight being cast on the harms of detention and deportation at a time when the Obama administration is under fire for its immigration enforcement record. Following his meeting with hunger striker in the Tacoma facility, U.S. Representative Adam Smith has initiated efforts to introduce legislation responsive to hunger striker demands. This morning, Rep. Smith held a phone call with community stakeholders, reinforcing his on-going leadership on this issue and updating callers on his efforts.
The issues the whistle-blowing hunger strikers have brought to light since the strike began 50 days ago include the on-going lack of appropriate medical care; among those who engaged in the hunger strike is Miguel Armenta Olabarria, who has spent over one month in a facility unequipped to meet his medical needs, which include living with HIV, Hepatitis C, and cancer. Strikers have also highlighted the abuses of the $1/day work system, forcing ICE to admit that the agency does not keep track of injuries sustained by those working in the facility. As those detained continued to organize inside for their demands to be met, outside supporters are finalizing plans for a 12 p.m., May 1st rally outside the facility that will end in a caravan to the yearly Seattle rally that afternoon.