An immigration holding center in the state of Washington is dealing with outraged inmates. Tuesday, activists said they’ve gone on a hunger strike and are refusing meals.
Hundreds of immigrant detainees are protesting the conditions are the Washington facility. They are also outraged about immigration hearing delays, according to activist Maru Mora Villalpando.
Monday, about 100 inmates refused their lunches at Tacoma Washington’s Northwest Detention Center. Between Monday night and Tuesday morning, 300 more immigrant detainees joined the hunger strike.
The facility has 1,575 beds, and specifically houses immigrants waiting for hearings or to be deported after they’ve been arrested by agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In recent years, hundreds of immigrants detained at federal facilities have gone on hunger strikes across the country. All have called for better conditions or the be released from jail.
The Tacoma protesters’ demands include expedited legal proceedings and higher-quality food, according to a statement from Northwest Detention Center Resistance, a volunteer group founded by Villalpando that has worked with detainees at the facility since a similar strike in 2014.
Some detainees have had legal paperwork lost when they were abruptly transferred out of state while waiting months for hearings, Villalpando said.
Seattle ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson said the agency was aware of the situation in Tacoma but said it would not count as a hunger strike under ICE guidelines until it had lasted at least 72 hours.
“Right now it’s more of a meal refusal thing that some of the detainees have done,” Richeson said in a telephone interview.
Any detainees that do cross the 72-hour limit can be isolated and could eventually be ordered by a court into medical care, according to ICE guidelines.
Richeson declined to comment on demands by the protesting detainees.
The Geo Group Inc, the company that operates the Tacoma facility and other prisons and detention centers around the United States, would not comment on the situation on Tuesday, referring inquiries to ICE.
In fiscal year 2016, ICE placed more than 350,000 individuals in civil detention facilities, according to the department’s website.
In January, new President Donald Trump signed an executive order making illegal immigrants with pending criminal cases priorities for deportation whether they have been found guilty or not. The order was a departure from former President Barack Obama’s policy, which prioritized deportations of those convicted of serious crimes.