750 immigration detainees on hunger strike at NW Detention Center

TACOMA, Wash. - Immigrant-rights activists rallied outside the Northwest Detention Center on Saturday, while at least 750 detainees protested their treatment and called for an end to deportations with a hunger strike.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department said on Saturday morning that 750 detainees had refused to eat and said they were on a hunger strike.

Local immigrant activist Angelica Chazaro says the hunger strike started Friday as a protest of deportations as well as center conditions.

"They want the deportations to stop, and to be reunited with their families and children," Chazaro says. "They're asking for fairness and justice because they feel this whole system is against them."

The detainees are asking for better food, health care, wages, and for commissary price decreases.

"The detainees that have gone on hunger strike are asking for better food, because of the really poor quality of the food in the detention center. They're asking for better treatment; particularly about the bad health care they receive," Chazaro says.

The workers have also stopped their jobs at the detention center, demanding more than the dollar a day they receive.

"They're asking for better pay. They are working in the detention center, but they get paid a dollar a day for the work that they do," Chazaro says. "They're asking for lower prices for the commissary, because the food is of such poor quality a lot of them don't get fed enough, and they're forced to buy from the commissary within the detention center. But, the prices are incredibly high, and of course with just one dollar a day that they receive they're not able to get enough to buy their basic necessities."

The center currently houses nearly 1,300 people, being investigated for possible deportation. ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz says the agency respects the right of people to express their opinions without interference.

Immigrant rights groups will be rallying from noon to 4 p.m. at the Northwest Detention Center Saturday through Tuesday, March 11th in an effort to raise support for the detainees.

"We're just asking for as much attention to be brought to this situation as possible, because we believe that reprisals are possible against the strike leaders," Chazaro says. "The more attention brought to this the safer we can keep the people risking so much inside right now."

ICE detention standards state that a detainee who has not eaten for 72 hours is considered to be on a hunger strike.