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Tensions Increase As Tacoma Detention Center Hunger Strike Continues Into Day 5

A file picture from Oct. 17, 2008, shows the 'B' cell and bunk unit of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
This Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 file picture shows the "B" cell and bunk unit of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash.

More than a hundred detainees at an immigration lockup in Tacoma are entering their fifth day without food. The hunger strike began Friday, with about 750 people refusing to eat.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up medical observations for the protesters.

Immigration officials say they’re working to confirm which detainees at the Northwest Detention Center have not eaten for a full 72 hours. Once verified, those people could be moved to a separate area for further medical evaluation.

Immigration attorney Sandy Restrepo represents some detainees on hunger strike. Her clients tell her about 25 strike leaders have already been isolated from the group. “And essentially were told not to move," Restrepo said. "They all needed to be laying down. They weren’t even allowed to speak to each other.”

The detainees also told Restrepo the guards threatened them with medical evaluations, suggesting they could be force fed by a tube.

The Tacoma facility currently holds nearly 1,300 immigrants who face possible deportation. It’s one of the largest detention centers in the country.

Tensions appear to heating up at there, even while the number of people refusing food continues to drop. ICE temporarily locked down part of the facility Sunday, as a precaution.

Restrepo’s clients also told her the guards are now wearing what appears to be riot gear.

“The uniforms are black, which is not customary for them to be dressed in all black and armed," she said. "And it was a change for the detainees to see the guards in such gear because for them it was very threatening.”

Immigration officials did not immediately respond to questions about security changes.

The protesters say they’re calling for better food, treatment and pay for jobs at the detention center. They’re also joining in a national immigrant rights campaign, taking aim at record level deportations across the country.

Year started with KUOW: 2006