As Conflict Over Hunger Strike Winds Down, Groups Drop Detention Center Suit

The conflict that has plagued the Northwest Detention Center for almost two months appears to be wrapping up—for now. The ACLU of Washington and Columbia Legal Services announced today that they are dropping a suit on behalf of roughly 20 hunger strikers who were placed in solitary confinement. Those hunger strikes have been released, according to ACLU attorney La Rond Baker.

Meanwhile, detainees at the Tacoma facility announced last Monday that they were calling off the hunger strike, which had started on March 27 and involved 1,200 people at its height, according to community activists working with those on the inside.

The protest--waged over conditions including inadequate food and a $1-a-day work policy as well as federal immigration policies--had attracted international press attention and the concern of U.S. Rep. Adam Smith. The Democratic Congressmember from Tacoma introduced a bill last week that would create detention center standards and require unannounced audits of privately-run facilities like Tacoma’s, which is operated by the Geo Group.

All that does not mean anything has yet changed at the detention center, however. “I don’t get the sense it’s any better,” says Tacoma activist Jolinda Stephens. That’s why she says detainees stopping their protest for the time being as they plan some other type of action, yet to be announced.

A statement by detainees released through community activists on May 5 hints at this. “The fortifications, the walls that attempted to contain our participation have cracked and with ever growing unity we will finish knocking them down,” reads the proclamation-like document, which also refers to “work yet to come.”

Hence, the ACLU’s Baker remarks that if future protests are met with retaliation, “we might find ourselves there again,” protecting the First Amendment rights of detainees. Likewise, with the federal debates over deportations and immigration reform as contentious as ever, the detention center might find itself in the spotlight yet again.

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