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Washington detention center hunger strike on Day 5

Wednesday - 3/12/2014, 2:51am  ET

Demonstrators opposing deportations hold up signs while chanting in English and Spanish outside of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash. Tuesday, March 11, 2014. A hunger strike at the detention center that started with hundreds of participants is down to five detainees on its fifth day, and they are under medical evaluation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/The News Tribune, Thomas Soerenes)

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- A hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Washington state that started with hundreds of participants was down to five detainees on its fifth day, and they were under medical evaluation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Tuesday.

The agency said 27 people had refused to eat at the start of the day. They were placed under medical observation and separated from others at the Tacoma facility. By Tuesday afternoon, 22 detainees had eaten, and five remained on hunger strike and under medical evaluation.

ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz said he could not comment on the condition of detainees who are still participating in the hunger strike because of privacy restrictions.

Relatives and supporters of detainees rallied Tuesday evening outside the center, calling for immigration reform and better treatment for those inside.

Hundreds of immigration detainees began the strike Friday. At one point, about 750 of the center's nearly 1,300 detainees refused to eat.

Medical and center staff advised detainees on Monday of the potential consequences of remaining on a hunger strike, including forced feeding, ICE officials said.

The agency's hunger strike policy says officials won't force anyone to eat unless it's determined to be medically necessary and ordered by a court. ICE's policy is to seek a court order to obtain authorization for involuntary medical treatment, according to the document.

"ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference," Munoz said.

Activists say detainees are seeking better food and treatment. Some are seeking to be released on bond while their cases are heard.

Munoz said that ICE officials and detention center managers have been talking to strikers since Friday and that several issues detainees brought up are being addressed. Those include adding more items to the commissary and looking for ways to reduce prices.

Immigrant-rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando said detainees have reported that they have been intimidated for participating in the hunger strike. Some seeking asylum in the U.S. have been told their cases could be denied, she said Tuesday.

"There have been no punitive actions taken against individuals who are participating in the protest," the agency said.

The privately owned detention facility south of Seattle is under contract with ICE to house people being investigated for possible deportation.


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