Detainees Face Tear Gas and Restraint During Tacoma ICE Center Hunger Strike

The Incident at Northwest ICE Processing Center

In a dramatic turn of events at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, detainees engaging in a hunger strike for improved living conditions were met with severe measures. Advocates released a 41-minute video documenting the response to the protesters' actions, showcasing heavily armored guards using tear gas, pointing guns, and physically restraining detainees. This incident, captured on February 1, 2023, highlights the extreme conditions faced by detainees demanding better food, more sanitary living conditions, and fair compensation for their labor.

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The footage reveals the tense atmosphere within the facility's common area, where guards with rifles drawn entered and proceeded to handcuff one of the detainees with plastic cuffs. Throughout the ordeal, the sound of coughing can be heard, indicating the distress experienced by the detainees, some of whom had covered their faces with clothing to protect against the chemical agents. Despite the lack of video evidence showing the release of chemical agents directly, the advocates' footage brings to light the stark reality of the situation, underscoring the detainees' grievances and their plea for humane treatment.

Advocates and Authorities React

The advocate group La Resistencia, responsible for obtaining and releasing the footage, has criticized GEO Group—the private company managing the Tacoma center—for withholding video evidence of the gas being used against protesting detainees. Maru-Mora Viallpando, an organizer with La Resistencia, expressed frustration over the company's refusal to release the crucial footage, indicating that the matter has escalated to court. This struggle for transparency is part of a broader battle against what is perceived as excessive use of force and chemical agents on detainees, a concern that various human rights organizations and reports have echoed.

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On the other side of the debate, GEO Group's spokesperson, Christopher Ferreira, defended the guards' actions, stating they followed ICE-approved protocol. According to Ferreira, the use of chemical agents was a response to detainees who were unresponsive to staff orders, a measure deemed necessary to resolve the incident. This defense highlights the procedural justification for the guards' actions despite the public outcry and the ethical concerns raised by the detainees' treatment.

The Bigger Picture

The incident at the Northwest ICE Processing Center is not isolated. The University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights published a report in August 2023 detailing the “cruel use of force and chemical agents against immigrants,” prompted by incidents like the one documented in the video. The report noted that chemical agents have been used at least 29 times at the facility from 2016 to early 2023, suggesting a pattern of behavior that has significant implications for detainee welfare and human rights.

These events and the responses from both advocates and authorities highlight the complex dynamics at play within immigration detention centers. The struggle for better living conditions, fair treatment, and transparency continues, as does the debate over the appropriate use of force and the ethical obligations of those in charge of such facilities. As this situation unfolds, the need for a balanced and humane approach to detention and immigration policy becomes ever more apparent, underscoring the challenges detainees, advocacy groups, and the entities responsible for their care face.

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About the Author: Grady

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