Tacoma, WA – Last Thursday two undocumented leaders of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance met with four members of the House Judiciary Committee. The Congresspeople, all co-sponsors of the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act, were Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Joe Garcia (D-FL). The two leaders from NWDC Resistance were Jose Moreno, who helped organize the March 7 hunger strike inside the Northwest Detention Center and supported from the outside once he was released on bond, and Maru Mora Villalpando, who was a leader of the Feb. 24th action that delayed deportations for a week and led support for the hunger strike. “The fact that we were able to met with key Congressmembers means we undocumented immigrants are not longer being ignored. Our activism is paying off”, said Maru Mora Villalpando in reference to the meeting.
On Friday they discussed the President’s order to devise changes in the immigration system with top officials of the Department of Homeland Security, including Esther Olivares, council to Jeh Johnson and Tae Johnson, assistant director for custody management. Moreno and Maru spoke with them about specific technical changes that need to be made to detention and deportation practices and provided stories of people in the detention center who are suffering as a result of ICE practices. The officials asked for more specifics and indicated that they are concerned about the history of failure for administration changes to make a difference in the field. “We were able to communicate with elected officials in Congress and DHS top administrators that we are human beings, and even in detention people should be treated as such” said Jose Moreno.
The hunger strikers expressed their appreciation for the ACLU and Columbia Legal Service in the wake of the voluntary dismissal of the April 2nd federal lawsuit that vindicated their Free Speech rights. The lawsuit was brought when twenty people in the NWDC were put in solitary confinement for engaging in a hunger strike to protest the United States’ immigration policies and poor conditions at the NWDC, a protest that gained national and international attention. The hunger strikers were immediately released after the lawsuit was filed.
This fight to protect the rights of whistleblowers on detention conditions was successful because ICE was put on notice that the can’t suppress peaceful protest without legal consequences. Knowing that retaliation will meet with strong public exposure and legal action will make it easier to continue organizing to expose the conditions in the immigration prison and the need to stop deportations and the use of prison-like detention for a civil process.