A hunger strike to protest conditions at the 1,500-bed Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma has significantly abated, the federal agency that oversees the contract facility said Friday.
All but one of the original protesters resumed eating regular meals, Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said in an email.
“The sole detainee who is continuing to refuse meals has been allowed to remain in the general population, but the facility personnel are monitoring him closely,” Kice wrote of the strike that began Monday.
Kice said about one-third of the civil detainees — who are awaiting immigration hearings or deportation — refused meals but, citing fluctuating numbers, did not provide exact numbers of those who participated in the strike. As of Friday morning, the population count at the facility was 1,401.
Maru Mora Villalpando, a spokeswoman for the anti-detention group NWDC Resistance, earlier said as many as 750 detainees were refusing meals at the privately run detention center operated by the GEO Group.
On Thursday, about 40 female detainees at the center joined the action and began refusing meals, ICE said in a statement. The number had dropped to 22 on Friday, with all still having access to the commissary, ICE said.
Staff planned to meet with the women to discuss their concerns and counsel them about the medical risks associated with refusing food, according to the statement.
“They will also be advised about the protocols that will be instituted should the threshold for a hunger strike be met,” ICE said, referring to the 72-hour period to refuse food or nine meals in row that trigger a hunger-strike protocol and a medical response.
Negotiations have taken place between ICE, GEO and the detainees, who reportedly have been protesting the quality of food, facility hygiene, access to medical care, lack of recreation and what they allege are exorbitant commissary prices. The detainees also are seeking an increase in the $1 a day they are paid for performing menial jobs around the detention center.
The strike has been led by the NWDC Resistance, which is composed of detainees and seeks to end all immigration-related detentions.
Kice, the ICE spokeswoman, said in an email her agency would “like to think our ongoing dialogue with the detainees contributed” to the drop in participants, while adding, “I wouldn’t want to speak for them.”
Villalpando said she heard detainees were offered more menu options but attributed the drop, among various things, to threats to transfer inmates to other facilities and take away the commissary.
GEO said Friday it has long offered detainees a wide variety of menu items.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.