By Associated Press
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) – A hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center entered a fifth day on March 10, with four detainees still protesting their treatment and calling for an end to deportations. The strike began March 7 when about 750 detainees refused to eat.
“As of Tuesday evening [March 11], five detainees were under medical observation,” said ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz. “Following the Wednesday [March 12] morning meal, one of the five detainees had eaten two meals and was returned to the general population. There are currently four detainees under medical observation.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said a lockdown announced March 9 was lifted later that same day. They said that the measure affected areas holding violent offenders as a precaution amid the continuing strike.
Protesters also want better treatment at the facility, better food and lower prices for the food, as well as more pay for the work they do while incarcerated.
“ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference,” said Munoz. “While we continue to work with Congress to enact commonsense 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.”
Currently, ICE houses 1,300 at the Tacoma facility, including Wah Mee Massacre parolee Tony Ng, who is slated for deportation to Hong Kong by the first week of June or earlier. It was unknown if he was participating in the hunger strike.
“Even though detainees have refused to eat scheduled meals, they have had access to food throughout the protest period through the detention center commissary, which makes ready-to-eat meals and snack food available for purchase by detainees,” ICE stated.
Detainees are permitted to keep their commissary purchases in their personal storage area, said Munoz. It was not known for certain if protesters in the general population were abstaining from all food or just scheduled meals.
Munoz said ICE officials had been communicating with the detainees since the strike began.
“Several issues that have been brought to the management’s attention are being addressed, including adding more items to the commissary list and exploring ways to reduce prices.”
ICE officials said when considering items for the commissary, they have to determine the detainees’ well being and security of the center and the staff.
“Items that are generally prohibited are those that could be used as weapons or easily made into contraband items such as alcohol.”
According to an ICE statement, “There have been no punitive actions taken against the individuals who are participating in the protest.” (end)
Sue Misao contributed to this article.