Immigrant detainees are declaring their first victory after ending a 6-day hunger strike to improve “unconscionable” conditions at a jail contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in The Dalles, a community in rural Oregon. The prison, Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility or NORCOR, has agreed to provide the incarcerated civil detainees with radios, full sets of clothing including socks and access to programs for inmates, according to administrators at the prison.
Detainees, who also complained of only receiving one hot meal per day and milk once a week, will reportedly also gain access to a new menu with improved choices that meet basic nutritional standards, authorities say.
“We are relieved that the hunger strikers are eating again, but sorely disappointed it took six days without food and very little water to get NORCOR to provide microwaves and radios,” said Solea Kabakov in a statement released Friday by community solidarity group Gorge ICE Resistance. “NORCOR has a reputation for its horrible treatment of those inside its walls despite its big budget. The Dalles is a wonderful community of people who take care of each other, and I question whether NORCOR shares our values and uses our tax dollars appropriately.”
The hunger strike was launched May 1, International Workers' Day, a date chosen by detainees due to its significance as a national day of migrant justice struggle and a global day for fighting to improve the social rights of workers, organizers in the Pacific Northwest region said.
“They were threatened to be broken up into cells for monitoring if they didn’t quit their protest,” Gorge ICE Resistance member Amy Krol told teleSUR.
“We met with a hunger striker who is being held in prison-like settings for over a year even though they are not charged with any crime,” local clergyman John Boonstra, who documented inhumane conditions at the facility in visits with detainees, said in a statement by the group Saturday. “Conditions are so bad that they are risking their own health and safety to bring these unjust realities to the public eye.”
The action was also the organic extension of a nearly month-long hunger strike that began at Northwest Detention Center, or NWDC, in Tacoma, Washington. The notorious GEO Group for-profit detention compound has been stricken by waves of hunger strikes, with up to 750 immigrants refusing their food at different points throughout the past month.
“As many as half of the people detained by ICE at the infamous Tacoma facility have taken part in hunger strikes," said Oregon Socialist Renewal. "The facility in The Dalles is a place no one wants to be transferred to.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon referred to NORCOR as “Oregon's secret ICE jail,” a bug-infested dungeon where detainees aren't given time to go outdoors.
“Conditions (at NORCOR) are abysmal," Mat Dos Santos, legal director of the Oregon ACLU, told the Associated Press. "The food is composed mainly of bread with little nutritional value. They don't even get issued socks. They have to purchase them. They live in worse conditions than those people being held as criminals."
Dos Santos also said that ICE detainees have no access to family visitors, only clergy and lawyers, and are unable to work to earn money, resulting in an inability to pay for expensive pay-phone calls that cost 25 cents per minute.
"They feel completely isolated," Dos Santos told AP. "There is a sense of desperation. This initiated the desire to start a hunger strike."
Two of the hunger strikers reportedly have children outside of the detention center but have been incarcerated for over two years, according to the Gorge ICE Resistance statement.
“All of the hunger strikers we spoke to shared that while they may not see the fruits of their labor, they know that taking this stand will make a difference for other immigrants,” said Judy Zimmerman, a clergy member who met with the detainees.
Local community members are continuing to express support for the locked-up immigrants and are urging administrators to swiftly fulfill the promised improvements. They also have vowed to continue holding pickets outside the jail until ICE cancel its contract with NORCOR and civil detainees are no longer held at the facility.
The advocates have accused authorities of breaking laws meant to prevent state and local law enforcement from using Oregon public resources to enforce federal immigration law