U.S.

Hundreds of immigration detainees on hunger strike in Washington state

Strikes are part of a larger campaign aimed to get President Obama to issue an executive order to halt deportations

Protesters sit chained together blocking the road in front of the federal Northwest Detention Center in the Tacoma Tideflats on Monday, Feb 24, 2014.
Joe Barrentine/The News Tribune/AP Photo

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has confirmed that at least 550 detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Washington state have launched a hunger strike.

The detainees, who have been refusing to eat since Friday, are demanding better food, safer working conditions and for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order ending deportations, according to Maru Mora Villalpando, founder of Latino Advocacy.

The hunger strikers, Villalpando said, are part of a growing, nationwide campaign against the U.S. immigration policy. Villalpando put the number of hunger strikers at 1,200, more than twice what ICE reported to Al Jazeera.

The strike is expected to last through Tuesday, Villalpando said.

The center, which is run by the private correctional services company GEO Group, currently houses 1,300 people being investigated for possible deportation.

ICE told Al Jazeera that hunger strikers are under continuous observation by detention center staff and medical personnel: “ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference."

Villalpando, whose group organized protests outside the detention facility last month, told Al Jazeera that protesters began the strike on a Friday because that is when guards segregate those who will be deported on Monday morning from those who remain in detention.

Hunger strikers at the facility were inspired to fast after witnessing protesters outside the gates of the detention center block deportation vans from exiting, Villalpando said.

Solidarity actions outside the center are being planned in tandem with the hunger strikes. "People will be coming every day from noon to 4 p.m. until Tuesday to show their support with the 1,200 immigrants," Villalpando said.

Villalpando accused GEO Group of exploiting detainees at the facility by paying them $1 a day for performing services that include working in the kitchen and janitorial work.

“It's just ironic that the government is detaining people for working without a social security number; meanwhile, they allow this company to exploit their labor,” said Villalpando.

GEO, which calls itself the world’s leading provider of correctional and detention services, lobbied Congress last year on immigration reform, standing against alternatives to detention, according to The Nation.

GEO did not respond to requests for comment.

Nationwide campaign

Immigration detainees in Washington state are the latest to join a nationwide campaign to protest deportations. Similar actions have been held in Arizona, Illinois, California and Virginia.

Coordinated actions by immigration advocates and detainees signify a new front in the battle to halt deportations after a bipartisan immigration reform bill stalled in the Republican-controlled House last July.

Activists have shifted their focus from Congress to President Barack Obama, demanding that he issue an executive order to end deportations until the immigration system is overhauled for the around 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

A national campaign dubbed "Not One More Deportation," organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, is sponsoring events around the country to halt the deportations. 

On April 5, a day of action called “All Out in the Streets” will include additional hunger strikes and sit-ins outside the White House and across the country.

Nationwide strikes

Washington is the latest state to join a nationwide campaign to protest deportations.

Similar actions have been held in Arizona, Illinois, California, and Virginia.

Coordinated actions by immigration advocates and detainees signify a new front in the battle to halt deportations after a bipartisan immigration reform bill stalled in the GOP controlled House last July.

Activists have shifted their focus from Congress to Obama, with a demand that he issue an executive order to end deportations until the immigration system is overhauled and amnesty is granted for some 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States. “Our goal is to stop deportations through an executive order that protects undocumented populations that may one day be eligible to stay in the country” once the immigration system is reformed, said Villalpando.

A national campaign dubbed "Not One More Deportation," organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, is sponsoring events around the country to halt the deportations. Planned actions include holding protests outside of detention facilities and engaging in hunger strikes.

An amnesty provision in the bill would forgive undocumented aliens for illegal immigration and implicitly forgives other related illegal acts such as driving and working with false documents. “The result of an amnesty is that large numbers of foreigners who illegally gained entry into the United States are rewarded with legal status (Green Card) for breaking immigration laws,” according to website.

The president blames Congress for stalling the immigration reform bill but advocates like Mora say that  Obama has not done enough on his own and insist that he has the authority to stop deportations.

Former allies are joining the growing list of critics. The president of the National Council of La Raza, the country's largest Latino advocacy group, recently referred to the president  as the "deporter-in-chief."

And in statements before the House, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, recently criticized Obama for having “detained more immigrants in jails, prisons and detention facilities than any other president.”

Meanwhile activists like Villalpando say they will continue to exert pressure on Obama to take immediate action against deportations by coordinating various actions around the country.  

A major day of action called “All Out in the Streets” is planned for April 5, which will include additional hunger strikes and sit-ins outside the White House and in other parts of the country.

Nationwide strikes

Washington is the latest state to join a nationwide campaign to protest deportations.

Similar actions have been held in Arizona, Illinois, California, and Virginia.

Coordinated actions by immigration advocates and detainees signify a new front in the battle to halt deportations after a bipartisan immigration reform bill stalled in the GOP controlled House last July.

Activists have shifted their focus from Congress to Obama, with a demand that he issue an executive order to end deportations until the immigration system is overhauled and amnesty is granted for some 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States. “Our goal is to stop deportations through an executive order that protects undocumented populations that may one day be eligible to stay in the country” once the immigration system is reformed, said Villalpando.

A national campaign dubbed "Not One More Deportation," organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, is sponsoring events around the country to halt the deportations. Planned actions include holding protests outside of detention facilities and engaging in hunger strikes.

An amnesty provision in the bill would forgive undocumented aliens for illegal immigration and implicitly forgives other related illegal acts such as driving and working with false documents. “The result of an amnesty is that large numbers of foreigners who illegally gained entry into the United States are rewarded with legal status (Green Card) for breaking immigration laws,” according to website.

The president blames Congress for stalling the immigration reform bill but advocates like Mora say that  Obama has not done enough on his own and insist that he has the authority to stop deportations.

Former allies are joining the growing list of critics. The president of the National Council of La Raza, the country's largest Latino advocacy group, recently referred to the president  as the "deporter-in-chief."

And in statements before the House, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, recently criticized Obama for having “detained more immigrants in jails, prisons and detention facilities than any other president.”

Meanwhile activists like Villalpando say they will continue to exert pressure on Obama to take immediate action against deportations by coordinating various actions around the country.  

A major day of action called “All Out in the Streets” is planned for April 5, which will include additional hunger strikes and sit-ins outside the White House and in other parts of the country.

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