Hunger Strikes at Immigrant Detention Centers in California and Washington

Men and women protest living conditions in detention centers, and the policies that put them there

This June, two prominent hunger strikes have taken place at immigrant detention centers in the US: Adelanto detention center in California, and Northwest detention center in Washington. Both detention centers are managed by the private prison corporation, GEO Group.

Known as the #Adelanto9, nine male detainees at Adelanto Detention center were beaten, pepper sprayed and placed in solitary confinement on June 12th after beginning their hunger strike. Stike participants reported that guards forced them to shower with hot water, which reacts with reacts with the pepper spray to cause great pain, and they also reported being humiliated and insulted by prison staff. Some of the hunger strikers were slammed against the wall and floor and one man was beaten so badly that a dental crown was knocked out of his tooth. Hunger strikers said ICE and GEO Group admitted responsibility for the attack, and promised the incidents would be investigated. In solitary confinement six of these men continued the hunger strike and posted their demands which included the lowering of bonds, better food, better medical care and political asylum (full list of demands at the end of this article.)
On June 14, 33 women detained at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California began a hunger strike in protest of the poor conditions at the facility as well as the policies that were keeping them locked up in the first place. On June 15th the hunger strikers ended their campaign, claiming that ICE and jail staff were meeting some of their demands. However, there are reports that ICE is still being untruthful to the women. Sources stated that guards had threatened the women with solitary confinement, pepper spray and loss of possessions if they continued to protest.
On June 20th, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) and faith leaders in the community traveled to Adelanto together to meet with the hunger strikers. The group held a 5 minute interfaith prayer outside the facility before entering, and were then denied entry as the facility was placed on lock down.
The male detainees at Adelanto launched their second hunger strike beginning on June 22 after discovering ICE lied in negotiations with them about their unreasonably high bonds.
Adelanto prison is the largest privately run immigrant detention center in California, with a capacity of 1,940. Reports of poor medical care and three detainee deaths since the beginning of 2017 have given it the reputation as the “deadliest immigration detention center in the country.” The prison corporation, GEO Group, makes at minimum $40 million a year from the prison.
Northwest Detention Center
On June 15, at least a dozen female detainees- known as #Tacoma12- went on a hunger strike and refused to eat for multiple days, in an effort to call attention to inhumane detention conditions. By June 18, more than 25 hunger strikers released a list of demands including: edible and nutritious food, fair and timely hearings by ICE, and asking Americans to step up and take action for the injustices happening within the immigrant community (full set of demands is listed at the end of article).
As of June 24th, 35 detainees were reported to be participating in the hunger strike, with 5 activists joining in the hunger strike from outside the prison.
Northwest Detention Center is run by the private prison corporation, GEO Group and holds 1,575 immigrants in the Washington state detention center. In 2014 detainees at the facility initiated a hunger strike which included around 1200 people. NWDC Resistance was launched to support the detainees in their efforts, and is currently advocating for the #Tacoma12 hunger strikers.
GEO Group
 Both prisons are managed by GEO Group, the second largest private prison corporation in the US with a $3 billion industry. GEO Group maintains prisons of all three security levels, immigration detention centers and mental health and residential treatment facilities.
GEO Group began as Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC), later changing its name and buying out a competitor- Corrections Services Corporation (CSC)- in 2005. GEO Group has 143 facilities worldwide, but only 56 of these have achieved American Corrections Association (ACA) accreditation. Similar to the biggest private prison corporation in the U.S.- Corrections Corporation of American (CCA) which recently rebranded itself as CoreCivic- GEO Group has faced many controversies in recent years.


#Tacoma12 in Tacoma, WA:

“We are a group of women in the Northwest Detention Center located in Pod D1. We announce that today, June 22 2017, we begin a hunger strike.
Our demands are the following:
Accessible bond.
Guaranteed political asylum: there are cases of people who have been granted asylum by a judge and are still not free.
New underwear.
More recreation time in the rec yard.
More time for religious services.
Don’t throw out the belongings of the detainees.
Documents in our mother tongue.
Purified potable water available 24 hours a day.
Improvements to our nutrition (including fruit on the menu).
Stop transfers of detainees from one facility to the other.
Provide a variety of exercise equipment in the units.
Improvements in the medical realm- trained medics, medical attention and assistance.
Courts on time, without delay or postponement.
Honesty from ICE- concrete and precise answers.
Improvements in lowering commissary prices.
Medical negligence.
Diet based on rice and beans.
Denial of cases
Denial of bond
Clothing is in poor condition
Transferring detainees from one facility to another, including from one state to another.
Very expensive commissary.
Evasiveness on the part of ICE- they do not respond to our doubts or complaints
When one is given the option of Voluntary Repatriation, they have to wait at least 10 years before they can return to the United States.
NWDC Resistance activists will maintain their encampment outside the Northwest Detention Center through the end of the week.”

#Adelanto9 in Adelanto, CA: 

“We are going to begin a hunger strike on the morning of Monday, June 12, and we will not eat until the government responds to our demands and agrees to negotiate.
The reasons for our hunger strike are:
1) Bonds set at impossibly high levels
2) Denial of the right to political asylum
3) Humiliation and discrimination towards the detained
4) Bad facilitation of the paperwork and processing of the detained
5) Bad food
6) Incompetence of medical staff
7) Paperwork available only in English
1) Bond set fairly for all prisoners
2) Political asylum
3) New uniforms – we are mostly concerned about the underwear issued, because we are being issued underwear that has been worn by other people, which risks our health.
4) More time for religious services
5) No throwing away detainees’ belongings
6) All paperwork must be provided in our native languages – because if they bring us paperwork in English we are not able to understand any of it
7) Clean water 24 hours a day
8) Better food for detainees
9) The entire group of hunger strikers demand that we be released on our own recognizance as quickly as possible, since we do not have the resources to pay inflated bond amounts.

We are participants from the Migrant Pilgrimage [the caravan of Central American refugees which crossed Mexico during April and May to seek political asylum in the United States].

We are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. We ask for your attention, because Adelanto is one of the prisons which exists for those who are seeking political asylum, and in reality our records are clean, none of us have prior criminal records. The bond is set impossibly high, and it’s a humiliating joke because we are poor, we don’t have that kind of money.”

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