As of lunchtime on Monday, some 130 detainees of a total of
roughly 1,300 were continuing to refuse to eat, but some of them may
be eating food purchased from the commissary at the privately run
Northwest Detention Center, the U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement.
Involuntary feeding "only happens when it is absolutely medically
necessary," said Andrew Munoz, an ICE spokesman in Seattle. "The
main concern is to ensure they remain healthy."
But a lawyer backing the group, which planned to carry on the strike
at least until Tuesday, said they face intimidation tactics by the
prison, such as open threats of forced feeding and efforts to
isolate strike leaders.
Under President Barack Obama, deportations from the United States
have hit record highs, according to government data.
The hunger strike, inspired in part by similar protests begun last
month outside an ICE office in Phoenix, comes at a time of a
protracted and tense national debate on immigration reform.
Last year in California, prisoners staged hunger strikes over a
two-month period to protest the policy of keeping some inmates in
near-isolation for years. They ended the strike in September, after
state lawmakers agreed to hold hearings on the practice.
The Washington state detainees want to see deportations stopped and
are demanding better food, an increase in the $1-per-day pay for
prison work, and better treatment by guards, said Sandy Restrepo, an
attorney who represents several of the strikers.
The detainees at the Tacoma facility, operated by the GEO Group and
about 30 miles south of Seattle, added on Monday that they want
their bond amounts lowered, Restrepo said.
"They want a negotiation with ICE not just with false oral promises
but concrete policy changes," Restrepo said.
GEO has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
[to top of second column]
At the outset, 750 inmates at the facility went on a hunger strike,
according to ICE. Advocates for the strikers put their initial
numbers at 1,200.
Advocates for the hunger strikers said their current numbers were
significantly higher than those provided by ICE but declined to
provide an estimate, citing actions they said ICE has taken to
isolate strike leaders.
Official ICE protocol for inmates on a hunger strike for at least 72
hours calls for sometimes placing them in isolation and under
medical observation while delivering them three meals per day. The
inmates reached 72 hours on Monday.
If an inmate persists in not eating and his life is deemed at risk,
ICE will seek a court order to mandate involuntary feeding. If such
requests are denied, ICE "may consider other action if the hunger
strike is still ongoing," according to the standards.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash.;
editing by Eric
M. Johnson and Ken Wills)
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