PT protesters picket detention center

Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 9/5/17

Fifty protesters from Port Townsend and Seattle visited the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma Sept. 3 to show their support for immigrant detainees.

The 20 Port Townsend protesters included …

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PT protesters picket detention center


Fifty protesters from Port Townsend and Seattle visited the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma Sept. 3 to show their support for immigrant detainees.

The 20 Port Townsend protesters included members of the Jefferson County Immigrant Rights Advocates (JCIRA), Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and First Presbyterian Church, according to JCIRA chair Libby Palmer.

Palmer estimated 15 people from a Seattle church group and 10 from the Northwest Detention Center Resistance group also took part in the two-hour sign-holding protest organized by JCIRA.

“We talked to families as they went in to visit their family members and friends, and talked to them as they left, walking to their cars,” Palmer said. “We were all emotionally affected by the stories we heard behind each individual’s detention there.”

The Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) is a immigration prison located on the tidal flats at the port of Tacoma. Opened in 2004, the NWDC is privately owned and operated by The GEO Group Inc. for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The NWDC’s current capacity is 1,575, “making it one of the largest immigration prisons in the United States, and the largest on the West Coast,” in Palmer’s words.

“Despite the sadness and futility we felt at being unable to immediately change their situations, we were moved by the friendship they showed and their appreciation of our efforts,” Palmer said.

Palmer explained that people in detention can receive limited legal assistance from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project’s Tacoma office, as well as the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center in Bremerton, “but both organizations are stressed to their maximum.”

There is a procedure for getting out on bail, with Palmer estimating that 500-700 detainees may currently be eligible, but she added that legal resources to process those bail applications are also limited.


“An ICE representative estimated that the average stay at NWDC is 120 days, but this includes many detainees there for more than a year, simply waiting for their case to be heard by an immigration judge,” said Palmer, who has called for an increased number of immigration judges and more speed in settling cases. “If cases cannot be evaluated within 90 days, the detainee involved should be released.”

Palmer referred to a 2008 report from Seattle University Law School, that found human rights violations and poor conditions at the facility.

Among the conditions the report concluded constitute violate international and domestic law are its legal due process, failure to provide adequate medical care and poor quality of food.

“The conclusion of the report is that the cumulative effect of these conditions results in cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Palmer said.

Palmer cited similar reports since 2008, “at least six of which were accompanied by detainee hunger strikes,” protesting against alleged continuing poor food, inadequate medical care, high commissary prices, poor sanitation and excessively long delays for immigration trials.

“ICE has consistently ignored demands for improved conditions, and has admitted to transferring people from one facility to another as retaliation for organizing,” said Palmer, who identified the most recent hunger strike as starting Aug. 29 of this year, conducted by 14 Cuban detainees being held as they seek asylum in the U.S.

Palmer’s goal is to end for-profit prisons, since GEO has contracts for similar detention centers around the world, but in the near term, she urged people to contact the City of Tacoma, so that it can exercise its power to revoke GEO’s business license if it poses a “danger to the public health, safety and welfare of the individuals [detained] as well as the community as a whole.”