Hunger strikers deported from Tacoma immigration detention facility

Hunger strikers deported from Tacoma immigration detention facility

Supporters of a hunger strike launched last month by immigration detainees at a facility owned by the GEO Group in Tacoma, Washington say at least five bus loads of detainees were deported from the Northwest Detention Center early this morning, among them, five hunger strikers. Shannon Young reports.

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Activists who maintain a presence outside of the facility say it’s the largest amount of buses they’ve seen leave in a single day. They estimate at least 130 people were on the buses this morning.

Salvador Chavez Salazar was among those deported this morning. He’s lived nearly 15 years in Washington state and has two U.S.-born daughters. He signed a voluntary deportation form on Friday after two and a half months in the facility. He said that he’s glad to leave the facility, but sad to leave his family behind.

The Northwest Detention Center made headlines last month when a reported 750 detainees launched a hunger strike over conditions within the facility, including the quality and quantity of food; the cost of commissary items and phone calls; and the one dollar a day pay rate for work.

“They had supposedly agreed to make the bonds slightly more affordable, to make more bonds available, and to change the personnel,” said Chavez Salazar, explaining why he and other detainees launched a second hunger strike shortly after ending the first one. “But it’s the same personnel. They just put them in different areas, but the situation is the same because they still treat people badly.”

The ACLU of Washington State filed a lawsuit earlier this month after 20 hunger strikers were moved to solitary confinement.

The two main organizers of the hunger strikes remain in medical isolation. One of the men, Ramon Mendoza Pascual, has been on hunger strike for 35 of the last 39 days.

Seattle-based immigration rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando says Mendoza Pascual was told he could return to general population if he agreed to eat again. “This is obviously nothing but retaliation because they took their constitutional right to protest in a peaceful manner and instead of ICE really taking this seriously, they have really worked with GEO to retaliate and intimidate them,” contends Mora Villalpando. “The fact that they deported so many people today, they probably just wanted to get rid of all the ones who have been continuing the strike, that continued organizing. But really, this is impossible to stop because once people decided to put their lives – really their lives – on the line, the rest of us are following and I don’t think this is going to stop any time soon.”

Mora Villalpando says a goal of the hunger strike and other acts of civil disobedience is to change the discourse around the issue of immigration reform. She says the hunger strikers at the Tacoma facility serve as real-life examples of how current immigration policies divide families. “They’re doing this for their children because they want their children to see that, although they might be deported, they fought. First, to have their children live better lives, but now they’re fighting to keep families together. And not only their families, but all families.”

In the face of congressional inaction, immigration rights activists are looking to the Obama administration to take steps towards changing federal policy. But at the same time, they’re more aware than most that the current administration has deported more people than any other in U.S. history.

(Photo: April 14, 2014, outside of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Credit: Murphy Stack. Used with permission.)

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