Asylum Seeker on Hunger Strike Dies at Northwest Detention Center

40-year-old Amar Mergensana’s Death Follows 86 Days of Refusing Food and 11 months in Immigration Detention


Tacoma, WA- Members of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance have received word that Amar Mergensana, a 40-year-old Russian asylum seeker, died in the detention center on the afternoon of Thursday, November 15th. NWDC Resistance received a phone call from a person currently detained in the solitary confinement unit of the now-infamous Tacoma immigration detention facility, stating that he had been held next door to Mr. Mergensana, and had seen paramedics unsuccessfully attempt to revive him, and had seen his body taken out of the detention center with blue hands and feet. Members of NWDC Resistance observed both paramedics and Tacoma Police Department vehicles at the facility yesterday afternoon, and Mr. Mergensana was described as “unavailable” for a legal visit by NWDC authorities.


Mr. Mergensana had arrived in the US last December, seeking asylum after crossing the US-Mexico border. With his attempts at securing asylum proving unsuccessful, he joined a hunger strike at the NWDC on August 23rd, as part of a larger national prison strike that ran from August 21st to Sunday, September 9th. Even after the hundreds of detained immigrants on  hunger strike at the NWDC ended their protest, Mr. Mergensana continued to refuse meals, vowing to continue to starve himself until he either died or was released, given his fear of being deported to Russia. Mr. Mergensana was profiled by the news outlet Crosscut 50 days into his protest. Federal district court judge Benjamin Settle granted ICE’s request to force hydration into Mr. Mergensana this past September, and Mr. Mergensana faced threats of forced-feeding throughout his hunger strike.


“We are horrified and saddened by Amar Mergensana’s death. He died protesting his detention and imminent deportation in the only way that was left to him. His death makes clear that ICE and GEO Group cannot guarantee the health and safety of people they cage. The more than one dozen hunger strikes by people detained since 2014, in which hundreds have taken part, speak to the need to shut down these cages for immigrants once and for all,” stated Maru Mora Villalpando of NWDC Resistance. “In the last written statement he gave us, Amar described being left in a cold locked room, naked, and with nothing but a bed sheet and a thin blanket. We demand that ICE and GEO Group be held accountable for their role in Amar’s death,” Villalpando continued.


Mr. Mergansana’s death follows reports of extreme medical neglect at the facility. Most recently, Saja Tunkara was deported from the facility and separated from his US citizen wife and children days after the Seattle Weekly published a story about the facility’s medical failures, in which Mr. Tunkara was prominently featured. This year has also been marked by multiple outbreaks of chickenpox and mumps among people detained. Between 2003 and 2018, 185 people have died in ICE custody, with many deaths connected to medical neglect, and ten deaths this past fiscal year alone. Mr. Mergansana’s death may be the first death of a hunger striking detained immigrant.


NWDC Resistance will be holding a vigil and rally at the facility to commemorate Mr. Mergansana’s life and honor his protest. Details will be available at Audio of Mr. Mergansana, as well as a handwritten note by him are available upon request.



NWDC Resistance is a grassroots collective led by undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens located in Tacoma, Washington. 

It is an unincorporated association formed for the purposes of confronting human rights violations at the Northwest Detention Center and dedicated to ending the detention and deportation of immigrants.


November 16, 2018


Contact: Maru Mora Villalpando,, 206 251 6658

              Angélica Cházaro,, 646 496 5724