Why Shut Down? FAQ’s

La Resistencia calls for the shutdown of the Northwest Detention Center and the release of all people caged there. Immigration detention has no place in Washington State, or anywhere else.

Q: Why are people detained? Don’t we have to detain immigrants?

The federal government has deliberately implemented a steady increase in immigrant detention, largely through the creation of “mandatory detention” laws. Thirty years ago, ICE did not exist and immigration authorities rarely detained people while processing their deportation cases. The US does not have to detain people. The federal government chooses to allocate money to detain more than 55,000 people per day, a budget that sets into motion the business of caging people for money.

Q: But isn’t the NWDC a “good facility” where people have access to services they need?

In response to the growth of immigrant detention in our state, legal and social service infrastructure has developed to support the people at caged at the NWDC. While these services are crucial for the survival of those currently caged, people should not need to be detained to access basic needs, including legal representation. The services surrounding the NWDC should not be used as an excuse for its growth or continued existence. Instead, we should continue to rally around those who are currently detained to secure their release and push to end all ICE activity in Washington State that feeds people into the facility. People are better able to find information to support their cases and more than three times as likely to obtain legal representation for their deportation cases if they are not detained. While immigration judges have been making it harder for people to be released on bond, more than 80% of people released on bond appear for their subsequent court hearing, and two out of every three (68%) people in deportation proceedings actually win their case. If the goal is to support people in successfully completing their deportation proceedings, then detention is the wrong way to go. 

Q: Is the NWDC safe?

ICE has claimed that the NWDC is a model facility, with good access to medical care and legal services. Still, people at the NWDC have died, people constantly go on hunger strike to protest their conditions, and GEO Group will not allow the WA Department of Ecology to test water and soil samples for environmental health. If this is a model facility, what must other detention facilities be like? 

The NWDC is built on a Superfund site remediated to industrial levels. In other words, this is not a place where people are supposed to live, and there are no other residential facilities on this part of the Tacoma Tideflats. In addition to being built in a liquefaction zone that would cause massive chaos and loss of life in the wake of an earthquake and/or tsunami, the NWDC is less than 50 meters away from a major e-waste recycler whose latest massive fire was in September 2019 (no people detained were evacuated), and two miles from a massive Liquefied Natural Gas plant under construction.

Q: What is the history of the NWDC?

The state of Washington has a long history of violence against immigrants, tracing back to the 1885 Tacoma Method of burning down the homes of Chinese railroad workers and expelling them from Washington Territory on the railroad. The first major sweep involving immigrant detention was during World War II, when people of Japanese citizenship and descent were sent to  concentration camps. When the US government put out a call for an immigrant detention center in Washington in 2000, the daily detained population in the state hovered around 180 people per day. The Seattle detention center was subsequently closed down, and the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) was built by Correctional Services Corporation (later acquired by GEO Group, the current owner), opening in 2004. 

Q: Why shut down rather than trying to fix the NWDC?

Since 2004, the NWDC has created misery and suffering for tens of thousands of immigrants, who have been caged for weeks, months, and sometimes years while awaiting the resolution of their civil deportation proceedings.

Every time GEO Group and ICE say they are improving the facility, they have just expanded the number of people caged in the state of Washington — from 500 to 1,575 since the facility opened. What’s more, in their budget request to Congress for 2020, ICE proposes to expand detention in our region by more than 50%! In 2019, GEO Group unveiled plans to expand the detention center in violation of Tacoma’s municipal code. If we don’t shut it down, it will continue growing.

Q: Why are you calling on the City of Tacoma and the State of Washington to take action? Isn’t this the federal government’s responsibility?

In 2000, Tacoma City Council passed Resolution 34722 to express unanimous support for building a new detention center. During a multi-year process, the City of Tacoma made clear that it would only support the building of the detention center on the industrial Tideflats, not the alternative site that would have been better for detained people’s health and transportation options. In this way, the City proactively chose the least safe and/or accessible site possible for the NWDC as a condition of support. Moreover, City Councilmembers wrote letters in support of applications for state financing for the NWDC’s construction.  In 2019, we know that GEO Group is planning to expand the detention center in violation of Tacoma’s municipal code. Not one member of Tacoma City Council has spoken out against GEO Group and in defense of Tacoma’s democratic process.

The state of Washington helped pay to build the detention center, and later to expand it, through a fund meant to support small businesses through the Washington Economic Development Finance Authority (WEDFA). WEDFA issued $57,000,000 in economic development revenue bonds in 2003, and over $54,000,000 in bonds to finance NWDC’s expansion in 2011, each with the express approval of Washington’s then-current governors (Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire).

Since Tacoma and Washington governments lobbied for the detention center and helped finance it, helping us shut it down is the least they can do.

Q: If people with criminal convictions are released from the NWDC, won’t they place our community at risk?

Many people caged at the NWDC have ended up there after some contact with the criminal system. Some are transferred after being arrested by local police for something as minor as a traffic infraction, and some end up there after completing years-long sentences in a Washington State prison. What they all have in common is that the criminal system is done with them once they hand them over to ICE for deportation proceedings – if they were US citizens, they would be back with their families and communities rather than facing banishment. Real safety does not come from locking up migrants, it comes from meeting people’s basic needs, whatever their place of birth might be. 

Q: What do people detained want? 

People detained have repeatedly made their opposition to their incarceration clear through hunger strikes, work stoppages, and other forms of protest. For many populations, including queer and trans people, people living with disabilities and serious illnesses, and people who are pregnant and/or parenting, detention brings extra forms of suffering that cannot be mitigated except by the closure of the facility. 

Q: If the NWDC is shut down, won’t people be detained in worse places?

The NWDC is one in a network of over 200 facilities across the country where migrants are caged. Ending the practice of caging migrants will require concerted action, and this shut-down campaign is part of a national strategy to challenge the existence and expansion of immigrant detention. Shutting down the NWDC, one of GEO Group’s “flagship” facilities, would send a powerful message to the private prison industry and the federal government, and more importantly, to the thousands fighting detention centers across the country and along the border, that ending immigration detention is within our reach. Central to the fight to shut down the NWDC are efforts to free all who are detained there, and to support those who may be transferred elsewhere when the facility closes. 

In other places where facilities have shut-down, immigration arrests have decreased because ICE no longer has a local place to detain people. We can already see this happening in the case of Washington and Oregon. These states have similar immigrant populations (OR=10%, WA=14%), but Oregon doesn’t have a detention center. Oregon’s  biggest immigrant detention facility is a county jail, NORCOR, which detains between twenty to thirty people daily through a contract with ICE. According to TRAC, over the past three years there were 5,000 immigration arrests in OR and 12,000 in WA – two and a half times as many. If we dismantle the infrastructure that allows for easy detention of our neighbors and family members, we expect less immigration enforcement in this state. 

The bottom line: 

As long as the NWDC exists, GEO Group will seek to expand it, ICE will seek to fill it, and both asylum-seekers arriving at the border and Washington State residents will be in danger of being caged there. It’s time to close this shameful chapter in Washington’s history, halt all detention expansion, and shut down the facility.