Detained Immigrants Launch Hunger Strike

Support Detainees Putting Their Lives on the Line

by Carl Dix | March 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


About 1200 immigrant detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, began a hunger strike on March 7. Their demands include safer working conditions, better treatment by guards, more sanitary food options, and for Obama to sign an executive order halting deportations until the U.S. immigration system is overhauled.

Family members and supporters of the Washington hunger-strikers attended solidarity rallies organized outside of the Northwest Detention Center facility in Tacoma. Photo: AP

Guards at the detention center, which is run by the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have retaliated against the hunger strikers attempting to break their strike. An attorney representing some of those on strike said: “Immigrants on hunger strike are being placed in solitary confinement, coerced into signing deportation forms, and threatened with force feeding if they continue their protest. Asylum seekers are being threatened with denial of their cases,” Five of those on hunger strike have been placed on medical observation which is one step along the way to being subjected to forced feeding.

On any given day, 33,000 people in the U.S. are held in detention centers being processed for deportation. They are being held in conditions that aren’t fit for human beings. These conditions have sparked a series of hunger strikes at detention centers, including in Arizona, Illinois, California, and Virginia.

We need to look squarely at what’s going down here. Millions of people have been driven to this country by the devastation of their homelands; devastation carried out by the U.S. dominated global economy. Once here, they are relegated to the bottom tier of the U.S. economy, working low-paying and dangerous jobs. And they are forced to exist in the margins of U.S. society, as people without papers or rights, and can be swept up and deported at any point. Under Obama, there has been a sharp escalation in ICE raids, with the numbers of those deported nearing two million, more than under any other U.S. president in history. It is outrageous that so many people are being rounded up and jailed for coming to this country in search of work and survival.

These sweeps are part of a thrust in recent years to criminalize immigrants. Many of those caught up in these raids are people who have been in the U.S. for quite some time and have lives and families here. On top of the horror that people are being torn from their families and subjected to deportation, ICE is putting them on trial before deporting them. This makes them convicted felons who can be more easily targeted if they try to return to this country because of the same devastation that drove them here in the first place.

Family members of the Washington hunger strikers attended solidarity rallies organized outside of the detention facility. The wife of one of the hunger strike leaders told Al Jazeera news that her husband was placed in solitary confinement with three other strikers for his role in organizing the protest. Everyone who stands against injustice needs to join in supporting these hunger strikers.

These detainees are putting their lives on the line to fight to end the conditions being enforced on them. They are asserting their humanity, and their struggle deserves everyone’s support. What’s happening to them is part of the criminalization of broad sections of people on the bottom of this society. Standing up to say NO MORE to the way these immigrants are being criminalized is part of the fight to stop mass incarceration. Cornel West and I have issued a proposal for October 2014 to be a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network has plans for a strategy session to flesh out the vision for that month and to develop a plan for making this month a powerful leap in the level of resistance to this horror. That month of resistance must encompass fighting the cruel criminalization, incarceration and deportation of immigrants, which is happening on a mass scale. And right now, people need to spread the word on this hunger strike and stand with these heroic prisoners.


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