[Pnews] Over a Decade of Resistance to the Northwest Detention Center - Perilous

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 25 22:49:01 EDT 2021


perilouschronicle.com
<https://perilouschronicle.com/2021/06/02/over-a-decade-of-resistance-to-the-northwest-detention-center/>
Over
a Decade of Resistance to the Northwest Detention Center - Perilous
June2, 2021
------------------------------

By Ridley Seawood <https://twitter.com/ridleyseawood> and Alexa Villatoro
<https://twitter.com/aalexavillatoro>

For years, Washington’s only immigration detention facility, the Northwest
Detention Center (NWDC), also known as the Northwest ICE Processing Center,
has amassed considerable criticism on its operations. The heavily debated
conditions include illegal minimum wages, contaminated meals, unlawful use
of solitary confinement and poor medical care. Since the opening of the
facility in 2004, detainees, their family members, civil rights activists,
state and local attorneys, community members, and academics have persisted
in a largely collaborative opposition to Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) and private prison contractor GEO Group, who together
manage the detention center.

The recent signing of Washington House Bill 1090
<https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1090&Year=2021&Initiative=false>
into law will ban most for-profit prisons in the state. The only facility
currently operating that would be effectively shut down under House Bill
1090 is the Northwest Detention Center. Under the new law, the facility is
slated for closure in 2025 when ICE’s contract with GEO Group expires. The
bill is facing pushback from GEO Group as they move to block the bill in
the courts. The future of the people who will remain in the facility when
it closes is still uncertain.

In the midst of this battle, Geo Group is also facing a separate lawsuit
brought by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office for allegedly
paying detainee workers far below minimum wage. The trial on that case
began June 1.
An immigrant detainee is led by guards at the Northwest Detention Center in
2016 (Photo Source: Cross Cut
<https://crosscut.com/2016/09/for-profit-northwest-detention-center-homeland-security>
)
*A Toxic History*

Previous to the NWDC’s creation in Tacoma, Seattle’s Immigration Station
and Assay Office held the largest population
<https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/anti.12610> of immigrant
detainees in Washington. According to the Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS), the precursor to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement or
ICE created in the wake of 9/11, the original detention center had failed
to meet basic safety standards and needed an expansion to meet a projected
increased detention rate.

In a 2000 public meeting
<https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ien.35556031855174&view=1up&seq=25>
administered by the INS intended to “allow public input to the National
Environmental Policy Act review process”, documents recall no government
agency representatives, non-governmental organizations, or the general
public present. There were also limited efforts to publicize the meeting:
verbal invitations to government authorities and an ad in the newspaper.

It was then that officials found expansion of the existing facility too
costly an option, choosing instead to privately contract the new facility.

In 2003, the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution
<https://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/DigitalObject/Download/ca5c5d35-026f-4117-9532-c7dc892cd223>
supporting the Correctional Services Corporation (CSC) to build a detention
center within its city limits. CSC was acquired by GEO Group in 2005 and
continued management of the facility. The resolution only supported
construction on a remediated Superfund site zoned for non-residential
industrial use. Superfund sites are highly contaminated areas being managed
by the federal government for clean-up because of the related human health
threats and concerns they may pose.

A large tract of industrial land on East J Street was one of two sites
originally being considered for the detention center. It wasn’t initially
regarded as the preferred alternative by the INS itself, but city officials
declined the proposal to establish the new facility at the second site,
near Taylor Way. Taylor Way had already been reserved for city port
expansion, was home to several businesses, and residents had complained the
new facility would be too close to their neighborhoods. Then Tacoma City
Councilman Kevin Phelps is noted as saying “Tacoma will make every possible
effort to keep the INS from constructing a facility on this site,”
according to the News Tribune
<https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/special-reports/article25860412.html>.
Later, INS would change its position, classifying neither as a preferable.
Subsequently, CSC constructed the facility on East J Street in 2005.

In ‘Site Fight’
<https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/anti.12610>, an academic
critique of the NWDC, Megan Ybarra, an associate professor of Geography at
the University of Washington, says the removal of the detainees from the
city center in Seattle to Tacoma made the facility remote, making it
difficult to access familial and legal support. The remote location of the
center prevents immigrants from physically accessing lawyers and
organizations that help them mount a successful legal defense. It also
leaves the reality of detention and the immigration system invisible to
anyone not immediately affected.
*Resistance from Inside and Outside *

Detainees at the NWDC have voiced complaints to family, community and legal
advocates that include illegal minimum wages, non-nutritious foods that
detainees claim include rocks and other objects, high commissary prices for
basic necessities, poor medical care, lack of access to bond hearings, and
obstruction to legal due process. To protest conditions, detainees at the
facility have organized hunger strikes, some lasting over 100 days.

La Resistencia <http://laresistencianw.org/>, formerly known as NWDC
Resistance, is a grassroots organization that advocates for the closure of
the NWDC. According to Maru Villalpando, an immigrant and lead organizer
within La Resistencia, there may have been hunger strikes at the NWDC as
early as 2007 or before. She recalls hearing of a few hunger strikes
between 2007 and 2009, however due to not having coordinated outside
support, the strikes were not well covered by the press.
A dozen protesters block the entrance to the Northwest Detention Center in
Tacoma in February 2014. (Photo Source: KUOW PHOTO/LIZ JONES
<https://www.kuow.org/stories/complaints-detained-immigrants-shock-federal-commission>
).

On February 24, 2014 La Resistencia, in solidarity with detained
immigrants, staged a lockdown action–preventing two vans and a bus filled
with people scheduled for deportation from reaching the Seattle-Tacoma
airport. According to Ybarra, who is also a former organizer with La
Resistencia, detainees from another van witnessed the action and by March
7, 1200 immigrants held in the NWDC were on hunger strike. The hunger
strikers asked family members to reach out to local news outlets who
covered the February action, which allowed the strikers to connect with La
Resistencia.

Since 2014, most of the hunger strikes at the facility have been publicized
and supported by La Resistencia, leading to a larger local and national
focus.
*“The food is part of the punishment”*

Victor Fonseca, an immigrant detainee from Venezuela who has been
incarcerated at the NWDC for nearly two years, has been on a hunger strike
for over 100 days. He says part of his motivation for doing so, besides
demanding immediate release for violation of his basic human rights, is
that the meals are often inedible. According to Fonseca, he signed an
agreement allowing for his legal deportation before being brought to the
facility but remains incarcerated without explanation.

As detainees continue to protest the quality of the food at the facility,
detainees and their supporters claim that in response to pressure, the
center will only improve food conditions for a week or so before meals
return to a poor state. In a video chat with Perilous, Fonseca says that
the lack of action by GEO Group to address the quality of the food is
because it is a “part of the punishment.”

In 2007, a food poisoning outbreak at the facility affected approximately
300 detainees, nearly a third of the total population. According to a 2008
report <https://law.seattleu.edu/documents/news/archive/2008/DRFinal.pdf>
published by Seattle University School of Law entitled *Voices from
Detention*, the outbreak was a result of the facility ignoring food safety
standards. Additionally, multiple detainees surveyed noted health concerns
from non-nutritious meals. One person featured in the report was prescribed
fresh fruit after his health declined significantly after nearly 4 years at
the facility.

In a 2019 memorandum from the City of Tacoma, the city manager’s office
noted that despite concerns about the food quality at the facility, the
Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s “regulatory role of the Northwest
Detention Center is limited to inspecting food preparation and service at
the request of the NWDC.” The memorandum added that despite some yearly
unannounced inspections, the department had been “unable to substantiate
any of the food contamination complaints they’ve received.”

Yet, reports from detainees currently in the NWDC, and those who have only
recently left, claim conditions remain dire. According to a legal document
<https://www.aclu-wa.org/file/103394/download?token=RlIfDisY> prepared by
La Resistencia in Washington State’s lawsuit against GEO Group for its wage
violations, detainees have repeatedly called La Resistencia to complain
about maggots in their food. The document adds that the claims were
substantiated in 2019 when a detainee showed one of La Resistencia’s
volunteer attorneys a maggot he had found in his meal. Years before, in
2014, another had brought a cockroach to show volunteer attorneys.

Sizing portions of food has been another source of concern. The *Voices
from Detention* report also stated that despite a contractual agreement
between ICE and GEO Group to provide well balanced meals in quantities
compliant with the Recommended Daily Allowances set by the National Academy
of Sciences, meals do not meet standards. Due to the inadequate portions
and lack of nutrition in the meals provided by GEO Group, detainees often
support their diets with foods from the commissary, which sell at high
prices. According to Manuel Abrego, a current organizer with La Resistencia
who was formerly detained at the NWDC, through the commissary a pack of
Ramen noodles sells for $5.
*“This facility is run by detainees”*

In March 2014, Hassal Moses, a U.S. Army veteran who was formerly detained
at the NWDC, wrote an open letter while still inside the facility. He
called for a work stoppage among the people held there.

“This facility is run by detainees,” said Moses, “if everybody stopped
working then we could negotiate a pay raise.”

Moses had been inspired to write the letter after detainees at the facility
launched multiple hunger strikes in early 2014. In an interview
<https://soundcloud.com/achazaro1/solitary-confinement-for/s-WkvAw> with
his attorney at the time, Moses noted that hunger strikes were a step in
the right direction but that he wanted to try a tactic that didn’t directly
affect the health of those participating. He was sent to solitary
confinement shortly after releasing the letter.

Despite the failed work stoppage, hunger strikes have remained a powerful
tool for drawing attention to the conditions within the facility. For
detainees voicing their concerns and committing to collective organizing,
retaliation from ICE and GEO Group can be an all too possible reality.

Three years later, in 2017, the Civil Rights Unit of the Washington State
Attorney General’s Office sued GEO Group
<https://agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploadedfiles/Another/News/Press_Releases/State%20v%20GEO%20Complaint.pdf>
for violating the state’s minimum wage law. According to the suit, detained
workers are not exempt from state minimum wage laws and should have been
paid $11 per hour at minimum. The NWDC continues to pay detainee workers
either $1 a day, or sometimes pays them only in snacks. The minimum wage in
Washington has since been raised to $13.69 per hour.

The state attorney alleged that GEO Group “relies upon detainee labor to
operate NWDC” and that “GEO receives and has received the benefit of having
necessary work done at NWDC without bearing the financial burden of paying
the minimum wage to those who perform such work.”

The lawsuit is ongoing and trial began June 1, according to court records.

*Retaliation Against Hunger Strikers *

In 2014 the Washington ACLU alongside Columbia Legal Services (CLS) filed a
lawsuit alleging ICE had sent 20 detainees who were on hunger strike to
solitary confinement just three days after they began refusing meals.
According to the ACLU,
<https://www.aclu-wa.org/news/lawsuit-challenges-retaliation-against-hunger-strikers-nw-detention-center>
when the strikers were invited to meet with an assistant warden to discuss
the situation, those who showed up were immediately handcuffed and sent to
solitary confinement.

The use of “administrative segregation,” a form of solitary confinement,
isn’t subject to due process because it is supposed to be non-punitive.
However, the ACLU lawsuit alleged that in the case in question
administrative segregation had been used as “punishment and retaliation for
engaging in constitutionally protected free speech activities.”

The lawsuit was later voluntarily dismissed after detainees announced an
end to a hunger strike and those being held in solitary confinement were
released. This was one of several lawsuits that have been filed by the
Washington ACLU against ICE regarding conditions at the NWDC. There have
been several instances in which detainees claim that guards retaliated
against them for participating in protest activity.

Following a hunger strike in February 2017 that involved 120 immigrants, Jesus
Chavez Flores
<https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/lawsuit-immigrant-beaten-for-role-in-hunger-strike-at-tacoma-detention-center/>
claimed he was singled out as a leader and “hit, injured and unfairly
punished.” According to the ACLU, Flores was placed in solitary confinement
for 20 days after being punched by a GEO guard in retaliation for his
participation in the strike.

Other current and former detainees also reported facing retaliation for
protesting. In an interview, former NWDC detainee Manuel Abrego told
Perilous how he also faced retaliation from GEO Group guards and ICE for
his participation in hunger strikes. Abrego says he was accused of leading
a strike and was sent to solitary confinement before being transferred to
Arizona and then to Oregon.

“It was kind of retaliation because they don’t want you to have any
attention from the public,” said Abrego. “They can choose you as an
organizer or an instigator. And, that’s a hot thing. It was like a
punishment.”

In 2017 alone there were nine hunger strikes
<https://www.yesmagazine.org/democracy/2018/01/17/i-stood-up-to-ice-and-now-theyre-trying-to-deport-me>
between April and November, according to La Resistancia.

Fonseca told Perilous that he was placed into solitary confinement when he
had just begun hunger striking, spending 65 days in a cell alone.
The “B” cell and bunk unit of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma,
Washington (Photo Source: AP).
<https://www.voanews.com/usa/detained-immigrants-launch-hunger-strike-washington-state>

*Concerns of Medical Neglect Deepen with Spread of COVID-19*

Throughout 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented response
from prisoners resulting in nationwide protests, strikes, escapes, property
destruction, and uprisings. Perilous Chronicle’s report on the First 90
Days of Prisoner Resistance to COVID-19
<https://perilouschronicle.com/2020/11/12/covid-prisoner-resistance-first-90-days-full-report/>
details the actions from prisoners and detainees resisting the carceral
system in the face of a global health crisis.

Outside the prison walls, advocates urgently organized car protests and
call-in campaigns demanding an immediate reduction in prison and detention
populations. At the NWDC, detainees continued to engage in hunger strikes
<https://perilouschronicle.com/2020/03/27/breaking-down-borders-hunger-strike-at-northwest-detention-center-in-response-to-covid-19/>
and a work stoppage
<https://www.facebook.com/LaResistenciaNW/posts/3049285318465661?__tn__=K-R>
while La Resistencia continued to advocate in support under the banner of
#FreeThemAll.

In response to reports of the virus rapidly spreading within prisons and
detention centers throughout the beginning of 2020, legal advocates around
the U.S. began appealing to courts to issue injunctions. They attempted to
pressure ICE to more quickly address the crisis developing inside its
facilities.

In March 2020 the Washington ACLU, in conjunction with the Northwest
Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), filed a lawsuit against ICE to release 9
immigrants at high-risk for contracting severe cases of COVID-19 from the
NWDC. A few days later, a judge denied their requested temporary
restraining order
<https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/dawson-v-asher-order-denying-temporary-restraining-order?redirect=dawson-v-asher-order>,
which would have required the facility to temporarily release the 9
individuals.

Just a month later a federal judge in California issued a decision
<https://creeclaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2020-04-20-132-Order-Granting-Amicus-Brs.-Subclass-Cert.-PI.pdf>
requiring ICE to survey all detainees in facilities nationwide
<https://www.cbsnews.com/news/judge-orders-ice-to-consider-releasing-all-immigrants-at-risk-of-dying-if-infect-by-the-coronavirus-2020-04-20/>
and release those who are at increased risk of a severe case of the virus.
Up until this ruling, ICE had only made broad recommendations that
facilities lower their population sizes.

Although the authority to release individuals belongs to ICE, the decision
to do so has been left up to the determination of privately contracted
groups, like GEO Group. The federal judge’s decision reads that facilities
are not likely to take “independent or decisive action” in reducing their
population given the economic benefit of meeting full capacity quotas.

In April 2020, in a statement to the Seattle Times, Stephen Langford, a
facility administrator employed by GEO at the NWDC, said that reducing
numbers at the facility would be unnecessary. He asserted that for months
prior to the start of the pandemic, the facility was operating at around
half of its 1535 bed capacity
<https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/immigrant-advocates-say-outbreak-at-northwest-detention-is-a-matter-of-time/>,
meaning there was already adequate room for social distancing inside the
facility.

Matt Adams, an attorney with NWIRP, speculates in the same Seattle Times
article that this drop in population was likely due to the Trump
administration’s *remain in Mexico* policy, also known as Migrant
Protection Protocols
<https://www.dhs.gov/news/2019/01/24/migrant-protection-protocols>. Under
the controversial policy, a large percentage of the immigrants who would
typically be held in the facility were instead transported back to Mexico
after reaching the U.S. southern border.

In a report published in 2020 by Human Rights First entitled A Year of
Horrors
<https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/year-horrors-trump-administration-s-illegal-returns-asylum-seekers-danger-mexico>,
the human rights advocacy group provides evidence that the policy led to
“kidnappings, torture, sexual assaults, legal representation barriers, and
the denial and abandonment of genuine refugee protection requests.” The
Biden administration ended the MPP upon entering office, but the situation
at the US/Mexico border continues to be fraught with violence and often
confusing policy changes leaving many still stuck on the other side of the
border awaiting entry.

Angelina Godoy of the Center for Human Rights at the University of
Washington, told The Seattle Times
<https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/new-covid-case-reported-at-northwest-detention-center-activists-seek-release-of-vulnerable-detainees/>
that despite GEO’s reports of adequate space for distancing and safety
implementations, detainees were still being held in proximities deemed
unsafe by CDC standards throughout the pandemic. According to Godoy, it was
not until mid-October that GEO made masks mandatory for its employees
inside the NWDC.

One detainee, Belkis Marisela Nolasco, told Perilous in an interview that
while cleaning solitary confinement cells, she was only provided with
minimal protection from the virus, gloves and a mask, while GEO employees
were provided additional protection like cleaning suits. Villalpando from
La Resistencia adds that despite CDC recommendations for adequate
ventilation, the facility has very limited ventilation infrastructure, if
any. This has raised serious concerns for advocates, as people infected
with COVID-19 may experience heightened respiratory difficulty when exposed
to noxious disinfectants.

In a state congressional hearing in May 2020, ICE stated they had released
16 detainees from the NWDC but did not plan to release anymore, despite
identifying 128 people as potentially high-risk. Legislators were also told
only 7 detainees had been tested for COVID-19. Though ICE had complied with
court orders demanding releases, representatives remained concerned if
social distancing was “even possible” given their 45% occupancy at that
time.

In December 2020, the ACLU and the NWIRP filed another lawsuit on behalf of
detainees to release “medically vulnerable” people amid rising cases. The
court case is still ongoing.

“Once COVID-19 begins circulating within an immigrant detention facility,
it spreads rapidly,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney at ACLU’s
National Prison Project in a press release about the lawsuit. “One study
this year found that the immigration detention facilities had a COVID-19
rate that was more than 13 times the rate of the U.S. population.”

When contacted for this article, Seattle’s assigned ICE Public Affairs
Officer said they were not able to comment on the current number of
detainees and occupancy of the facility. The officer added that ICE does
not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.

At the beginning of the pandemic, ICE had committed
<https://www.ice.gov/doclib/news/library/reports/annual-report/eroReportFY2020.pdf>
to reducing populations nationwide of detained immigrants to reach an
operating capacity of less than 70% normal capacity. Yet, it wasn’t until
November that medically vulnerable individuals began to be released from
NWDC, according to Villalpando. Alarmed by this inaction, La Resistencia
collaborated with the Tacoma Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
and on August 4, 2020 the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution
<https://www.cityoftacoma.org/in_the_news/resolutionadvocatingexpansionhealthinterventions>
advocating for the expansion of health interventions at the NWDC.

The resolution called for a “systematic release of all detainees under
parole and bond” and an “end to transfers in and out of the facility.”
Additionally, it signaled the city’s support for the detained population,
called for the suspension of the facilities operations during COVID-19, and
advocated for an exploration of the city’s authority to engage in health
related interventions in the privately-operated facility.

The resolution does not address persistent problems detainees face with
accessing bond and medically vulnerable people still imprisoned at the
facility today. City resolutions are also not laws and don’t hold any legal
power.

Legal experts working to address the conditions at the NWDC assert that
health and safety conditions have always been poor–even when facility
populations have been low.
*Not Holding Their Breath: Detainees and Advocates Meet Medical Needs
Directly*

In 2018, Saja Tunkura was detained and despite informing guards of a
scheduled surgery for a tumor in his neck, was provided minimal pain
treatment and delayed surgery. According to the Kirkland Reporter
<https://www.kirklandreporter.com/news/incarcerated-and-infirmed-how-northwest-detention-center-is-failing-sick-inmates/>,
medical records show that ICE Health Service Corps, who manage medical
operations at ICE detention centers, ignored Tunkura’s pain and medical
condition.

Citing a consistent pattern of medical neglect, La Resistencia and
detainees at NWDC are not waiting for ICE and GEO Group to follow a
District Court’s mandate
<https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/fraihat_pi_grant.pdf> to
medically evaluate people for their release during the pandemic. At the
request of detainees, La Resistencia has been sending individual’s medical
records to a team of doctors who will review them and make a clinical
diagnosis and recommendations for their release according to the CDC’s
guidelines.

Villalpando says when countless immigrants call La Resistencia’s hotline,
they describe what she asserts is a “well-orchestrated” process for denying
immigrant detainees quality medical care.

“They are asked to be ready for an appointment at 5 a.m., and because of
COVID, they are putting people in rooms to wait. Those rooms are really
small and really tiny and very cold,” said Villalpando. “Most people are
kept there for hours at a time while waiting to see a doctor. So people
would be like ‘you know what, I’d rather go back to my pod.’ And then they
were like ‘okay, sign here refusing medical service.'”

Discouraged from seeking medical care, detainees are told they are refusing
medical services–which is documented in their files and could be used by
ICE to discredit immigrants’ grievances or seeking legal remedy, according
to Villalpando.

According to *Voices from Detention*, these violations of international and
domestic law have been a common occurrence at the NWDC since before 2008.
Interviews with dozens of immigrants reveal guards forcing detainees to
sign legally binding documents under pressure, including verbal threats and
physical intimidation. The report adds that these documents, which can be
life changing and even include consent to deportation, are often not
translated nor explained.

According to a December 2020 report entitled *Conditions at the Northwest
Detention Center*
<https://jsis.washington.edu/humanrights/projects/human-rights-at-home/conditions-at-the-northwest-detention-center/>
by the Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington, ICE has
coordinated multiple transfers of detainees on hunger strike from other
facilities to the NWDC, claiming that the facility has “specialized
knowledge of hunger strike management.”
Maru Villalpando in a Dec, 2020 (Photo Source: Facebook).
<https://www.facebook.com/LaResistenciaNW/photos/pcb.3694160583978128/3694160353978151/>
*“Ultimately, what I want, is.. my freedom”*

Victor Fonseca signed a voluntary departure form prior to being detained
more than 700 days ago. Yet ICE has continued to hold him in custody. Since
first being detained, he has participated in multiple strikes and worked
with La Resistencia to bring attention to the conditions within the NWDC.
Fonseca has recently surpassed 170 days of his current hunger strike and
claims he isn’t stopping any time soon despite being heavily medicated due
to several chronic conditions like depression and rheumatoid arthritis. To
be able to continue striking without being held in solitary confinement, he
refuses two meals a day and eats one meal a day to sustain himself.

Before being detained by ICE, Fonseca worked for more than 20 years for the
same grocery store chain. Fonseca has family in Utah, including a mother, 3
half brothers, 3 children, and two grandchildren. He says that detention
has caused him to lose everything he had worked for: his home, career, and
family.

Fonseca has also lamented the death of a child while in detention. “Last
year, I lost a son. My son was 34-years-old, his name was Jefferson, and he
passed away Feb. 9th 2020,” Fonseca told Perilous.  He requested to be
furloughed to attend the funeral. ICE denied his request.

Fonseca just began an appeal process for his case, hoping to be able to
remain in the country that has become his home. He was told by his lawyer
to expect the process to take anywhere from 18 months to 4 years to be
completed. Fonseca told Perilous that he has been encouraged by the passage
of House Bill 1090 into law. He plans to continue his strike and his
ongoing collaboration with La Resistance and other community organizations.

“I am still alive. I am really grateful. Ultimately, what I want, is…my
freedom,” said Fonseca. “I’m just trying to get out.”

He says he strikes not only for himself but for all the other immigrants
who are being denied their freedom. “It’s not just for me, I do it for
others,” he said.

In the cell next to him another immigrant, who is from India, has been held
for over five years. Solidarity between detainees in the face of
retaliation is a bedrock of internal organizing according to Villalpando.
With the numbers of immigrants detained dropping, strong organizing and
leadership becomes more challenging on the inside, she said.

Villalpando added that she has been told that stress levels have risen
tremendously since the early weeks of the pandemic and that this has caused
trusting relationships between detainees to be difficult. People are afraid
and desperate; they want to get out.

“It’s kind of hard to organize now because you don’t have people in there
that are there long term,” says Abrego, “And the people that *have* been
there long term, they don’t want to mess up their cases or anything.”

Despite grappling with these complications, there appear to be many inside
the facility who are determined to resist their conditions. One of the only
two women left in ICE custody at the NWDC, Gloria Iniquez, was put in
solitary confinement in response to beginning a hunger strike in February.
Both Fonseca and Iniquez are still refusing meals as of late May. In a
letter
<http://laresistencianw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/07.03.20-Gloria-Iniguez.pdf>
made public by La Resistencia, Iniquez describes what she calls a disregard
for the lives of detainees that GEO Group has displayed throughout the
pandemic. Exposed to toxic cleaning supplies without proper ventilation,
Iniquez says she has suffered from chronic headaches, coughing, and burning
eyes.

“I work in the clinic, and there are people in solitary with coronavirus,
and they come to our unit to say that no one has been infected?” Gloria
said. “Why can’t they tell the truth?”

In a video <https://twitter.com/ResistenciaNW/status/1388922663494553600>
posted to La Resistencia’s Twitter account, a detainee named Jose describes
how the impacts of a reduced population hasn’t cleared the center of
challenges. He claims that because of the small numbers, the facility is
cutting food. He adds that there wasn’t enough food for the detainees for
three days. Jose also describes how tension between guards and prisoners is
growing as the number of detained immigrants fell below 200, requiring GEO
guards to take on work that was previously done by detainees for $1 a day
or a small portion of food.

“They are working angry, because before they are getting paid to stand
still,” said Jose. “They [guards] are having to do the work now: like
laundry, cleaning, so the stress that they are working under, they are
putting onto us.”

In response to the recent signage of House Bill 1090, Jose poses a question
that many people will likely be asking in years to come: “If we are on the
pathway to denying it from being open, why are they keeping it open?”
*Legal Challenges Ahead*

The slated closure of the NWDC for 2025 is a distinct victory for advocates
who are critical of private, for-profit prisons. But even as detainees
begin counting down the days until the facility’s closure, legal challenges
are ongoing.

GEO recently announced in a legal challenge
<https://www.scribd.com/document/508527389/GEO-vs-State-of-Washington-EHB-1090-Lawsuit-05-17-21>
to House Bill 1090 in April that people detained at the facility at the
time of its closure will be transferred to different facilities out of
state.

GEO Group, one of the country’s largest private prison operators, calls
House Bill 1090 an “assault on the supremacy of federal law.” Their legal
challenge calls the bill an “attack” on their constitutional rights by
interfering with federal government regulatory powers to privately contract
detention centers and prisons.

A similar law banning private detention facilities in California was
temporarily upheld by a District Court following an appeal from GEO Group
and the federal government under the Trump Administration. The appeals
process has been continued
<https://www.wsj.com/articles/private-prisons-could-see-fortunes-change-under-biden-immigration-policy-11619800623>
by the Biden administration.

The administration claims in a brief filed by the government that the case
is “not about the wisdom of the federal government’s decisions, but about
preserving its discretion to make decisions.”

The administration has yet to join the appeal of the Washington ban, but
the outcome of the appeals process in California will have implications in
Washington. In the appeals, GEO Group and the federal government assert
that the state legislatures are interfering with federal authority over
immigration enforcement and regulation.

When asked how the House Bill 1090’s signage has affected La Resistencia’s
strategy, Villalpando says that their practice is to employ new tactics as
they see fit, aiming to be flexible with their strategy, while attempting
to predict what will come next. She says the challenge for most people is
that they’re just not used to winning.

“Instead of thinking, how are we going to close it?” said Villalpando, “Our
fight is going to become, how do we get everyone out?”
------------------------------

Alexa Villatoro is a writer from Seattle, Washington. Follow her on
Twitter: @aalexavillatoro <https://twitter.com/aalexavillatoro?lang=en>

Ridley Seawood is a member of the Perilous Editorial Collective and is
based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow them on Twitter: @ridleyseawood
<https://twitter.com/ridleyseawood>

Header image: Protestors chain themselves together to shut down the NWDC in
2014. (Photo Credit: KUOW Photo/Liz Jones).
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20210625/718212c8/attachment-0001.html>


More information about the PPnews mailing list