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WA Immigration Detainees Join Nationwide Prison Strikes

At least 200 people in the Northwest Detention Center have said they will join nationwide prison protests. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
At least 200 people in the Northwest Detention Center have said they will join nationwide prison protests. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
August 22, 2018

TACOMA, Wash. – People in Tacoma's immigration detention center have joined nationwide prison protests that started this week.

People incarcerated in at least 17 states are holding peaceful protests, hunger strikes and work stoppages through Sept. 9, the date of the Attica prison uprising in New York in 1971 that left 43 people dead.

Chief among strikers' demands is that people be paid the prevailing minimum wage in their state for work they do in prison. But because immigrants are detained at the Tacoma center, Maru Mora Villalpando, lead organizer for the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, said the main demand there is reunification of families.

"They mentioned the mothers that have been separated from their children at the border, but also recognizing that themselves and over 40,000 people across the nation right now that are detained have been separated from their loved ones, too," she said. "So that's their top demand right now."

As of last week, more than 560 children in border crossings remained separated from their parents or guardians. Villalpando said at least 200 people have signaled they will strike.

Nationwide, protesters released a list of demands that includes increased funding for rehabilitation services and an end to life-without-parole sentences.

Like people incarcerated across the country, immigrant detainees in Tacoma get low wages for the jobs they do. Villalpando said workers there are paid $1 per day, and their income goes solely to commissary items. She said people deserve the state's minimum hourly wage for their work.

"They know that the work they do in detention centers is necessary to keep the detention going, and they should be treated as workers, as they are, because at the end of the day, the detention center in Tacoma is a business," she said. "It's run and owned by GEO, who's a corporation, and they should be paying the minimum wage to anybody that works there."

Last year, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued GEO Group over its low wages, claiming the company makes millions of dollars in profits by illegally exploiting workers. The lawsuit still is in court.

The nationwide protests are related to a riot at a correctional institution in South Carolina earlier this year that left seven people dead.

Prison strike demands are online at sawarimi.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA