Northwest Detention Center, Tacoma
At least 750 detainees at an immigration detention center in Washington have gone on hunger strike to protest against deportations. Activists gathered outside the facility in a demonstration to show their solidarity for the strikers
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) announced on Saturday that 750 detainees had refused their meals on Friday at the Northwest Detention Facility in Tacoma, saying they were on a hunger strike. However, supporters of the strikers say up to 1,200 are currently participating in the act of protest.
The center, which is run by private correctional services company, GEO Group, currently houses about 1,300 people who are under investigation pending deportation.
"People in detention can't wait any longer," said Seattle-based attorney, Sandy Restrepo, to Reuters."They are human beings, not criminals, and they deserve better treatment."
According to an attorney who represents a number of the detainees, the strike will continue for the next five days. The detainees are calling for an improvement in conditions at the facility and an end to deportation. Among their demands are better food, more money for the work they do and better treatment from the personnel at the facility.
"They're not eating and not working - the detainees are paid $1 per day to work in the kitchen and in cleanup crews
. In response, those who are more actively involved are getting their blankets, pillows, and clothes taken away," said a post on rights organization, Latino Advocacy's, Facebook page, citing one of the strikers' lawyers who preferred to remain anonymous.
Supporters of the strike have so far gathered outside Northwest every day since the strike began and plan to do so until Tuesday.
In response to the strike, the ICE said that all of the strikers are under close observation by the facility's personnel and medical staff.
"ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference," said the company in a statement released to Al Jazeera.
The Obama Administration has come under increasing fire from rights groups over its hardline immigration policy. The President has set the record of the amount of deportations since he entered office, with nearly 2 million people ejected from the US.
Earlier this week President of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Janet Murguia slammed Obama's immigration policy and branded him "Deporter-in-Chief" in a speech at the NCLR's annual Capital Awards dinner.
"He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos. He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done. He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency," she said.
President Obama defended himself following the comments, maintaining he cannot amend immigration policy until Congress acts.
"I am the champion-in-chief
of comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said during a press conference. "But what I've said in the past remains true, which is until Congress passes a new law, then I am constrained in terms of what I am able to do."