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NW Detention Center Hunger Strike: Small Part of Big Picture


Monday, March 24, 2014   

TACOMA, Wash. - Negotiators say they made some headway this weekend for hunger-strikers at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. In a meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, they outlined concerns, which range from bad food to high commissary and phone prices.

However, the larger issue is ending deportations - and for that, they will soon have national reinforcements. On the first weekend in April, people in dozens of U.S. cities will gather to protest federal detention and deportation policies they believe are unnecessarily tearing families apart.

Seattle immigration attorney Evan Oshan said the hunger strike may be a small part of the bigger picture, but it is making a difference.

"I think now is the time for people to stand up and to ask for change. The more things that are done - whether it's a hunger strike, whether it's writing to your congressman or woman - it's going to help, it's not going to hurt. They should voice their concerns, and not lose hope," Oshan said.

The negotiating team has requested audit records of the detention facility and asked for an independent audit of conditions there.

Oshan said he has taken on many tough deportation cases over the years and can point to people who once were detained for minor infractions and today are successful American citizens. However, the system is hard to navigate, he said, and those with immigration problems often wait too long to seek assistance.

"Oftentimes people are living in fear, and their families live in fear, and it just creates instability in the regions that they live in," he explained. "By the time these individuals get to the detention centers, they're kind of burnt out - and it's really a sad situation."

Negotiators for the detainees said conditions are complicated by the use of multiple private contractors, each profiting from their role at the detention center.

Today, people are coming to Tacoma from Portland and elsewhere for a rally in support of the hunger-strikers. The national day of action, dubbed "Two Million Too Many," will take place on April 5.

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