More than a hundred detainees at an immigration lockup in Tacoma are entering their fifth day without food. The hunger strike began Friday, with about 750 people refusing to eat. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up medical observations of the protesters.
Immigration officials say they’re working to confirm which detainees at the Northwest Detention Center have not eaten for a full 72 hours. Once verified, those people could be moved to a separate area for further medical evaluation.
Immigration attorney Sandy Restrepo represents some detainees on hunger strike. Her clients tell her about 25 strike leaders have already been isolated from the group.
“And essentially were told not to move," said Restrepo. "They all needed to be laying down. They weren’t even allowed to speak to each other.”
The detainees also tell Restrepo the guards threatened them with medical evaluations, suggesting they could be force fed by a tube.
The Tacoma facility currently holds nearly 13-hundred immigrants who face possible deportation. It’s one of the largest detention centers in the country.
Tensions appear to heating up at there, even while the number of people refusing food continues to drop.
ICE temporarily locked down part of the facility Sunday, as a precaution.
Restrepo’s clients also tell the guards are now wearing what appears to be riot gear.
“The uniforms are black, which is not customary for them to be dressed in all black and armed," said Restrepo. "And it was a change for the detainees to see the guards in such gear because for them it was very threatening.”
Immigration officials did not immediately respond to questions about security changes.
The protesters say they’re calling for better food, treatment and pay for jobs at the detention center. They’re also joining in a national immigrant rights campaign, taking aim at record level deportations across the country.
Copyright 2014 KUOW