We sent this public letter to Nathalie Asher, the director of Seattle’s ICE Field Office in response to a press release she released denying that hunger strikes are happening inside the NWDC. Please read and share!
April 8, 2020
FIELD OFFICE DIRECTOR,
SEATTLE FIELD OFFICE OF UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT (ICE)
Dear Ms. Asher,
In response to the rolling hunger strikes by people in your custody in the immigrant detention center in Tacoma, Washington, you released a press release, dated April 5, 2020, and titled, “Propaganda, false hunger strike claims at Northwest ICE Processing Center incites unnecessary fear throughout the community.” You claimed, “There is no hunger strike occurring at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC), “ a prison for people facing deportation also known as the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit prison company. We are in the midst of a global pandemic putting people in your custody at risk for death. The people detained at NWDC are using the only tool at their disposal– hungering– to draw attention to the risk they face, and the impossibility of keeping themselves safe while caged in close proximity to each other.
Instead of responding to their demands, you are using your energy to deny reality. Detention centers are “tinderboxes” for uncontrollable COVID-19 infections according to your own Department of Homeland Security’s medical experts. People detained know this and are acting accordingly to safeguard their lives. With great sacrifice for their own personal welfare, over one hundred and forty detained people engaged in these hunger strikes to alert everyone to the mortal danger the detention center poses. They have made their demands clear: 1) humanitarian visas for those detained; 2) immediate release from detention; and 3) an end to deportations and removal proceedings until the end of the pandemic. They know they are in a fight for their lives.
Why would you choose to waste time denying reality instead of figuring out ways to meet these demands? You already released at least four of our community members in detention who filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) for their release alongside others with the help of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the ACLU. So why won’t you release everyone in the facility in this moment of mortal danger, given that the power to do so rests entirely with you and can be done immediately? Why go out of your way to raid, detain, and deport people from our region to this day when they could be released to get the shelter and care needed to survive this unprecedented pandemic?
On April 7th, community members inside the facility reported that ICE and GEO Group employees have decided to begin using medical masks needed desperately by frontline workers in hospitals. We know that masks only offer value for slowing the communication of this virus when they are used in conjunction with social distancing, which remains impossible for the people under your charge. Masks alone are little more than propaganda (to use your words) meant to distract from fundamentally irresponsible potentially homicidal choices. The outfitting of ICE and GEO employees with masks cannot hide the absolutely unnecessary practice of caging people to line the pockets of GEO Group.
When the world is almost a stand-still, when many nations across the globe have liberated migrants, immigrants, and people incarcerated from cages, when still other countries have chosen to immediately regularize all people without status so they can safely access medical care and possess the means necessary for social distancing, and when the WHO and the UNHCR advise that the immediate release of migrants from confinement is necessary both to comply with basic human rights and to stop the devastating spread of this disease across the planet, why, in this moment of collective danger, would you decide your resources and time are best spent terrorizing migrants and immigrant communities?
The lives of those in your custody are as precious to them as your life is to you. When the history of this pandemic is written, President Trump will be rightly condemned for failures in leadership that led directly to the death of hundreds of thousands. But he will not have acted alone. You are at a crossroads – will you be one of the many officials who acted as an agent of Trump, condemning those in your custody to death, or will you act to release them now?
Ms. Asher, it’s time to stop these practices, including wasting time sending out disinformation, and release all detained people at NWDC.