Over 100 detainees at the NW Detention Center end second hunger strike there this year

Rosemary Montalvo


Over 100 immigrants detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma have ended their second hunger strike of the year. The February 2024 strike lasted a total of eight days and ended on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Wendy Pantoja, an organizer with Washington-state based immigrant rights group La Resistencia, said the hunger strikers decided to end the protest after they were told by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers that their cases would not be reviewed as long as the hunger strike was ongoing.

The News Tribune contacted ICE regarding these and other allegations, but they were unavailable for immediate comment.

According to press release from La Resistencia, which advocates for the closing of the facility and an end to deportations, the first group of about 19 hunger strikers initially began their protest on Friday, Feb. 2, but concluded after ICE officers met with the strikers and promised to pay attention to their demands. The hunger strike was restarted the following Monday after not hearing anything from ICE.

Hunger strikers were demanding better food, medical care, clean clothing, ICE visits, bond opportunities, humane treatment and ultimately their release from the detention center, according to La Resistencia.


This was not the first time that detainees at the NWDC have turned to holding hunger strikes as a means to apply pressure on ICE over poor conditions and delays on their immigration cases. This marks the second hunger strike of the year at NWDC and according to La Resistencia, there were at least seven hunger strikes in 2023, the last of which lasted 50 days. T

An anonymous detainee participating in the hunger strike quoted in La Resistencia’s latest press release alleges a lack of due process and prolonged detention that migrants face after being detained.

“We are doing this strike because we are being practically deprived of freedom indefinitely. Our immigration processes don’t seem to advance,” notes the detainee. “What we want is to be given the chance to follow through the process from the outside, to go to court. We are not opposed to an immigration process, we are only opposed to being denied our freedom. We have families that await us, lives on the outside. We don’t want to be locked up like criminals. We’re getting sick, we’re having health issues. The food is not good, and also, we’re being treated like delinquents. That’s all we want, our freedom.”

The Northwest ICE Processing Center, formerly known as the Northwest Detention Center, is a privately owned and operated immigration detention center on the Tacoma Tideflats. It opened in 2004 with a 500-bed capacity. It has since expanded capacity three times into a facility with 1,575 beds, making it one of the largest immigration detention centers in the U.S. Aerial photo taken in Spring of 2012. DEAN J. KOEPFLER THE NEWS TRIBUNE FILE

The News Tribune previously reported that health and workplace inspectors were denied access to the detention center to investigate complaints from detainees and alleged workplace violations even after presenting a warrant signed by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson. The Department of Labor & Industries filed a complaint on Jan. 30 to hold GEO Group, Inc., the contractor that runs the detention center for ICE, in contempt of court for defying the warrant and not allowing unannounced inspections that are authorized under a law that was recently adopted.

Ricky Dahiya, a 27-year-old Indian migrant who requested to go by a pseudonym out of concerns for his on-going immigration case said in an interview that he witnessed an ICE supervisor at the NWDC verbally threaten Mexican hunger strikers with not reviewing their cases if they continued with the hunger strike.

“I don’t know his name, but I can recognize him. He was a supervisor. He came there and he threatened the Mexican people like ‘if you guys are gonna be on a hunger strike, I’m gonna put your files more down’,” Dahiya said.

La Resistancia’s Pantoja, along with over a dozen other protesters, met in front of the NWDC in mid-February to hold a vigil in solidarity with detainees on hunger strike and to call for the closure of the detention center and the release of all detainees.

Pantoja said in an interview that she tried to get in contact with detainees during the vigil, but her calls would not go through. She alleged that it was a known occurrence for the phones inside of the detention center to be tampered with while hunger strikes are ongoing.

Dahiya, who was recently released from the NWDC on a $30,000 bond after being detained for 60 days, confirmed Pantoja’s allegations of the phone being tampered with while hunger strikes were ongoing.

He said if the NWDC staff are aware of detainees staging hunger strikes, people making calls from inside of the detention center would be able to hear the person on the other end, but the caller outside of the detention center could not hear the detainee.

The NWDC has also been under scrutiny for having unhygienic living conditions, alleged treatment of migrants and use of excessive force and chemical agents.

“These facilities are not humanitarian, and those running it are just profiting off of family separation,” Pantoja said.

Cover Photo: ROSEMARY MONTALVO rmontalvo@thenewstribune.com

Rosemary Montalvo is a service journalism reporter based in Tacoma, WA. She started as a summer news intern after graduating from California State University, Fullerton in May 2023. She previously worked as the photo editor and as a reporter for her university’s student-run newspaper. She was born in Inglewood, CA.

Publisher’s Notes: Washington Latino News (WALN) and The News Tribune are partners in best serving the public. Over 100 detainees at the NW Detention Center end second hunger strike there this year was originally published on The News Tribune, and was republished with permission.