On Labor Day, 57 people from Port Townsend and Sequim stood in solidarity with over 1500 immigrants detained inside the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma. The peaceful Witness and Protest was organized by the Jefferson County Immigrant Rights Advocates (JCIRA), a Port-Townsend based non-profit group supporting immigrants and their families.
Protestors’ signs decried inhumane treatment of immigrants, the lack of legal process, and the unsafe conditions inside the privately-owned, for-profit prison run by the GEO Group, a company contracted by the federal government to run 71 detention and correctional facilities nationwide.
Visiting families were offered food and support by JCIRA. Several people informally shared their stories:
• A young DACA recipient, having lived in the US for 22 of his 23 years, was removed from the side of his US citizen fiancée while waiting for public transit. First placed in a facility in Iowa, he received a work release. As he left the facility, however, ICE again detained him, and placed him in the NWDC where he has been incarcerated for two months. An immigration judge recently denied his bond, so he now faces deportation to Mexico, a country he left when he was one year old.
• A young business owner with a legal work permit regularly checked in at the Citizenship and Immigration Center in Tukwila, as required. According to his visiting uncle, at one of the young man’s routine check-ins, the officer “tore up his permit and jailed him.” The nephew has had no legal representation. Out of frustration, pressure, hopelessness, and the terrible prison conditions, he gave up and signed a paper to be deported to Mexico.
• A Seattle-area mother of two visited her husband whose multiple medical problems have been repeatedly ignored in the Center. With surgery finally scheduled, he was taken to a hospital in shackles. She described her experience: “I couldn’t call him. He couldn’t call me. I did contact the jail. They wouldn’t tell me anything. I called the hospitals. They wouldn’t tell me anything.” Determined, she continues to fight for better medical conditions in the Center by conducting television interviews, posting details on Facebook, and encouraging JCIRA supporters to help.
At the end of the day, one JCIRA supporter commented, “The day was uplifting and heartbreaking.”
Several hunger strikes have taken place at the NWDC. More than 200 Tacoma prisoners initially joined the National Prison Strike despite the risk of harsh abuse as punishment for protesting, including solitary confinement, forced feeding, and threats of removal to detention centers farther away from their families.
JCIRA will continue its work with detainees as part of its mission to support the rights of Olympic Peninsula immigrants through advocacy, community outreach and education. The organization offers low-cost legal appointments for immigrants, is holding a free Citizenship Clinic September 22 and is establishing an Immigrant Legal Defense and Family Support Fund.
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