Health inspectors turned away at Tacoma ICE detention center as hunger strike continues
Activists with the group La Resistencia say there’s been a hunger strike at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Northwest Processing Center in Tacoma for almost a month. But state authorities who tried to investigate some of the claims of mistreatment made by the hunger strikers have been turned away by the private prison company running the facility.
Washington State Department of Health officials said they’ve been denied entry twice, on Nov. 14 and 27, while making unannounced visits to the facility to investigate the validity of various complaints.
Detainees protesting conditions have staged hunger strikes at the ICE detention center in Tacoma on and off for years. Earlier this year, in an effort to increase transparency and oversight, Washington state lawmakers passed a new law that allows the health department to inspect the center. But GEO Group, the private prison company that operates the immigration facility, sued over the law.
State health officials said GEO Group has cited the ongoing litigation as the reason for denying them entry. In court documents, health officials note they’ve received more than 200 complaints about conditions from April to November of this year.
According to court records, detainees have complained of foreign objects in food, and that their sheets, clothes, and blankets are rarely laundered. When items are taken to be cleaned they are returned dirtier than before, detainees said.
Detainees also told state health officials that guards retaliate against them by putting them in solitary isolation or by making loud noises at night so that they cannot sleep.
The group La Resistencia said in addition to poor conditions, such as widespread illness, detainees cite delays in the processing of their immigration cases as one of the reasons behind the strike.
In audio provided by La Resistencia, detainee Randhir Singh said he has lost 16 pounds.
“I feel myself so hopeless, unlucky, so stressed, so depressed over here. I miss my family. I miss my fiancé. And it's very hard for me to handle this situation,” Singh said.
In a statement, David Yost, a spokesperson for ICE, said the federal agency is "committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments. Due to privacy rules, ICE is prohibited from discussing individuals engaged in a hunger strike."