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Detainees at Northwest Detention Center launch a hunger strike

By Gemini Gnull

Solidarity action with the hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Ta

Tacoma, WA – A small crowd gathered outside of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) at 6 p.m. June 19 in solidarity with the detainees inside protesting inhumane conditions. The NWDC is a privately owned ICE detention center built on the Tacoma tide flats. The rally was called after a group of detainees launched a hunger strike early in the day.

The rally was hosted by La Resistencia, a grassroots organization led by undocumented immigrants that has been protesting the NWDC and supporting detainees since March 2014.

Activists kicked off the rally with a series of chants including, “Chinga la Migra!” and “How do you spell racist? NWDC!” Organizers from La Resistencia connected with detainees over a video call so that protesters could hear from the detainees directly. A detainee named Christian Dueñas explained why they were launching another hunger strike: “ICE and GEO promised us a lot of things, some of them came true but a lot of them didn't.” This is the fourth hunger strike this year.

Dueñas described how the NWDC provides used socks and underwear, blankets that are too short to cover their bodies, and inadequate food. He went on to say, “They treat us like criminals, but this is not a criminal center.” The demands of the hunger strike include adequate access to food, hygiene, medical care, yard time and affordable commissary items.

Another detainee elaborated, “We are going on hunger strike because we deserve medical attention. Every time I go to medical I’m treated like a monster who will kill them if we’re left alone. Every time I complain about pain, I’m told that I’m lying. I’m fluent in English and can communicate and stand up for myself. Imagine what they’re doing to people who can’t speak English, who can’t defend themselves?”

Michael Cueva-Estrella of Colectiva Legal del Pueblo has been attending actions at the NWDC for nearly ten years. “It hits close to home. I’m an immigrant myself, my family and I immigrated when I was really young to this country. I’m trying to support undocumented folks and immigrants any way I can.” Cueva-Estrella, a union member, talked about the need for the labor movement to unite with the immigrant movement. “They are detained people first, let’s not forget about their humanity, but they’re also workers. They’re in there ‘working’ for miserable wages. GEO is running a for-profit detention center.”

Another member of La Resistencia, Wendy Pantoja, explained how the NWDC is built on top of a Superfund site. She led the crowd around to the back of the detention center to show them where scrap and soil contaminated with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals had been buried in a large hill. Next to the hill was another pile of yet-to-be buried scrap. Pantoja explained that when it rains, the heavy metals enter the soil, water and air – directly impacting the detainees being held nearby. “It’s environmental racism,” she said.

After returning from their tour of the Superfund site, more detainees had the opportunity to talk with the crowd of protesters. Activists held another series of chants including “Shut it down!” “Fuck ICE! Fuck GEO!” and “No esta solos! You are not alone!” Detainees pumped their fists, jumped up and down, and chanted along on the other side of the call. Detainee Gabriel Chavez concluded the rally by saying, “We are not aliens. Aliens are something not of this world, we are human beings. We want justice, we want freedom.”

#TacomaWA #immigrant