Tacoma, WA – Yesterday Congressman Adam Smith introduced legislation to address many of the demands of the hunger strikers at the Northwest Detention Center. Congressman Smith indicated that his legislation is in direct response to the hunger strike. On March 20th he visited NWDC and spoke with Ramon Mendoza Pascual, Miguel Angel Farias and Jesus Gaspar Navarro. Reaction from Ramon Mendoza Pascual’s family was positive. His wife, Veronica Noriega, said, “I¹m glad that their courage and their effort paid off, I want to thank Rep Adam Smith for his interest in solving the issue of the suffering of so many people.” His 11-year-old daughter, Veronica Mendoza, said, “I’m proud of my dad.”
The legislation would, in the Congressman’s words, “change federal law to ensure that detention center standards are federally regulated and created by a rulemaking committee that includes stakeholders like organizations that advocate for undocumented immigrants, local governments, medical experts, and more.” It would also encourage alternatives to detention. The Not1More Washington campaign expressed its appreciation, “Today he delivered on his promise. As part of the campaign to stop deportations and as representatives of those on hunger strike, we thank him for his leadership and courage in creating solutions to these issues.”
Jose Moreno, who took part in the hunger strike and has now been released, believes that the influence of this proposed legislation goes beyond making detention centers a bit less severe. “It’s a really good start,” he observed. “It is a victory for those of us who were on hunger strike and it will put pressure on the President to end deportations. We have been doing the work he is supposed to do and we’ve proven that when people are united they can make change happen.”
In his statement Congressman Smith referred to the fact that many detainees are fathers and mothers who are held at detention centers in unacceptable conditions for a prolonged period of time. Mr. Mendoza will continue to be held, as his hearing on his asylum claim and cancellation of removal scheduled for this morning had to be continued for several more months. The main problem is the difficulty in getting important documents from his former representative who is not an attorney, although he represented himself as such. Mr. Mendoza’s son, 13-year old Jose Mendoza, who was at the immigration prison for the hearing said, “It’s disappointing. My mom has been working hard to get all the papers.”
“Mr. Mendoza Pascual’s experiences with immigration illustrate what is wrong, cruel and unconstitutional about the immigration system and why people should not be locked up in conditions worse than prison while their civil claims are being adjudicated” observed his new attorney, Sandy Restrepo. “Frequently, people end up in detention because they have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous people posing as immigration lawyers. During his 51 days of fasting he was also subjected to a 20 day sentence of absolute isolation – no contact with others, including phone calls to family, and no tv or even books or writing material – for being a hunger strike leader. That decision was made by the same ICE officer who served as the translator and testified against him. These are, unfortunately, common stories for those locked away from their families.”
A significant component of the immigration system that fills the for-profit immigration prisons is the involvement of local law enforcement in enforcing immigration law. A recent decision in a federal court in Oregon (Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County) has convinced most counties in Oregon and about one third of the counties in Washington to cease holding persons because of detainer requests made by ICE. The rate of change is rapid with all but one of the counties making the change in the last two weeks. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project calculates that the counties that have made changes are home to about 90% of the immigrants in the state of Washington. It is expected that most of the counties will decide soon to cease honoring ICE detainers. The court held that honoring ICE detainer requests deprives people of their rights and opens counties and cities to expensive lawsuits.