Immigrants on Hunger Strike: Seeking a Better Life, but "Treated Like Animals"

March 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

On Friday, March 7, a reported 1,200 prisoners in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, one of the largest immigration prisons in the U.S., went on a short-term hunger strike to demand improvement in conditions at the prison and an end to deportations nationwide. A smaller number continued on to at least March 13. Their current status is uncertain, as information is restricted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security. When word of the strike escaped the prison walls, a couple hundred people, many Latino, rallied in support, and some form of presence has continued there at various levels. This strike has been covered in national and international news. It should be noted that President Obama had said he would enact immigration reform his first year in office, and prevent parents from being separated from children by deportation. Instead, he has conducted a record number of deportations, almost two million to date, with many families being separated.

Supporters rally outside Northwest Detention Center facility in Tacoma. These detainees are putting their lives on the line to fight to end the conditions being enforced on them. Everyone who stands against injustice needs to join in supporting these hunger strikers. Photo: AP

The prisoners at the Tacoma detention center are not just people who were arrested locally, but come from all over the Northwest, and many loved ones have to travel long distances to see them and aid in their chances of release. Daily some of these people sit in cars or on the sidewalk outside the prison gate to pick up the few prisoners scheduled for release. Most of these waiting are friendly yet cautious in talking to strangers, but those who do reveal deep feelings of injustice and tell of hardships.

A revolutionary talked to three Latino women waiting on a prisoner who was to be released that day. They were the fiancée, daughter, and sister of that person. They had driven from across the state that morning. One said, "It is terrible, no fair. People come from far away for a better life, but they are treated like animals." The young man they were waiting for is in Washington State's DREAM Act program for immigration reform. (DREAM stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, a law that has been discussed in the U.S. Senate since 2001 but has not passed yet. Several states, however, including Washington, have put in place their own versions. DREAM is supposed to allow undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to remain and someday get some form of citizenship if they register and then complete education or military and other requirements.) The young man got a first-time citation for DUI (driving under the influence), which normally would mean 24 hours in jail. But instead, as an immigrant, and even under the DREAM Act, he has spent two-and-a-half weeks in various jails and prisons. And he is now on the path to deportation with any other offenses.

The wife of another prisoner to be released that day said, "My husband has been here [in the U.S.] for 10 years, is a good man who works hard, has three kids, and doesn't bother anyone!" But he was a Latino living in a small town and was pulled over one day because one taillight on his truck, although operating correctly, had a piece of the red plastic missing and was patched with a piece of clear tape. "He was profiled. I drove that truck that way for years with no bother, because I'm a U.S. citizen!" The husband had no identification. He has been in prison for one-and-a-half months. His wife got a loan of several thousand dollars from the bank, which a lawyer said would be plenty to pay his release bond. But on arriving at the prison she was told it was a couple thousand dollars more for the bond, so she had to drive back home to raise more money and then return. Now they are deeply in debt, and the husband, who works in the fields, is under threat of deportation.

When shown this quote in the Spanish language version, Lo BAsico, of Bob Avakian's book BAsics, she read it with interest: "Now I can just hear these reactionary fools saying 'Well, Bob, answer me this. If this country is so terrible, why do people come here from all over the world? Why are so many people trying to get in, not get out?'... Why? I'll tell you why. Because you have fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what you have done in this country. You have made it impossible for many people to live in their own countries as part of gaining your riches and power." She then commented "Yes, that's the truth. That's it in a nutshell!"


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