Last month, a hunger strike began at a Washington state detention center. Northwest Detention Center detainees are refusing to eat as a way to protest the lack of immigration reform in the United States. Media sources have reported that there are anywhere from 330-1,200 detainees participating in the strike. Participants hope to get attention from President Obama and other politicians.
The detainees are demanding better food and treatment, along with increased wages for those who work at various jobs in the detention center. According to latest reports, three detainees were taken aside by detention center personnel and individually questioned. These individuals said that they were told that they would be “force-fed if they continued their strike.” However, federal officials argue that they will only step if it becomes medically necessary and court-ordered.
Meanwhile, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials report that they must abide by set guidelines which call for any detainee who has not eaten for 72 hours to be given a medical evaluation and possible treatment. This does not mean, however, that every detainee participating in the program will undergo a medical evaluation. An ICE spokesperson said that “medical personnel are taking steps to evaluate which detainees fall into that category. It wasn't clear yet how many detainees would be affected.”
In addition, ICE officials have made an official statement regarding the hunger strike: "ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference," ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz said. "While we continue to work with Congress to enact common sense immigration reform, ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on convicted criminals, immigration fugitives and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States."
In addition to the hunger strike going on within the four walls of the detention center, supporters and activists are also participating in different ways. These individuals will be protesting outside of the Northwest Detention Center every afternoon to show solidarity with the detainees on the inside.
One of the organizers of the outside protest is Maru Mora Villalpando, founder of the immigrants rights group, Latino Advocacy. Latino Advocacy is Seattle-based and has previously helped orchestrate protests near the facility and attempted to block buses and vans from leaving the facility. These vehicles were trying to transport detainees who were being deported.
This latest movement was said to be inspired by a hunger strike that occurred outside an ICE office in Phoenix. At the Phoenix protest, participants were demanding that family members be released from detention centers and the end of deportations.
Hunger strikes and other protests attract a significant amount of attention from news and other media outlets. This is one of the reasons why advocates and other immigration reform supporters choose to organize these types of movements. Hopefully, lawmakers and other politicians will be encouraged by this latest strike to come to some kind of an agreement about immigration reform in order for us to finally see some progress in the right direction.