Some held at Tacoma ICE detention center fear COVID spread

Nine people held at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma have joined in a hunger strike to protest what they say are unclean conditions amid worries about a COVID spread.

The strike began Friday, according to the group La Resistencia. The facility that is among the largest immigration detention centers in the U.S. It can hold about 1,500 people going through immigration-status proceedings, the Seattle Times reported.

It’s operated by the for-profit GEO Group in partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The hunger strikers want better cleaning, more nutritious food, better access to medical services and jobs that pay a minimum wage.

"Their demands show how bad the environment is," said Maru Mora Villalpando of La Resistencia, a Washington organization led by undocumented people that advocates for closing the center. "It’s filthy."

In a statement, GEO said the company has taken steps to mitigate COVID risks through cleaning, social distancing and testing. Almost 400 COVID cases have been reported among detainees throughout the pandemic, according to ICE data.

GEO said its centers have access to physicians, dentists and mental-health professionals.

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"Ensuring the health and safety of all those entrusted to our care and our employees has always been our No. 1 priority," Christopher Ferreira, manager of corporate relations, said in an email.