Early Saturday morning, about a dozen people met in Salem to begin a caravan to the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, Washington to protest the detention of immigrants there.
Four of the families split apart under former President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” family separation policy were reunited last week just in time to celebrate Mother’s Day weekend together. They represent the first of the more than 1,000 families President Joe Biden’s administration and his Family Reunification Task Force have promised to reunite.
As Biden’s task force juggles tracking down remaining parents while also reviewing more than 5,600 files to find any other potential separated families, activists continue to push for an end to the ongoing detention of immigrants nationwide.
The nonprofit American Friends Service Committee organized Saturday’s caravan to draw attention to the mothers inside the facility who will spend Mother’s Day separated from their families.
Pedro Sosa, director of the Immigrant Rights Program for the Pacific Northwest Region of the American Friends Service Committee, said they collected about 150 letters from across Oregon, some of which they planned to read aloud to remind the mothers they have not been forgotten.
The event was also intended to recognize women who are raising their children in detention, and to recognize mothers who have children or other family members in detention, Sosa said.
Part of the #FreeThemAll AFSC Mother’s Day campaign, the rally brought together organizers from eight different spots in Oregon and Washington against one of the largest ICE facilities in the country and the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
The Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma is operated by the GEO Group, a private company. The center is slated to close after Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1090 into law on April 14, banning for-profit detention centers in the state.
The measure would allow the jail to remain open until ICE’s contract with the GEO Group ends in 2025 — a date too far away in the eyes of activists.
Community organizers who gathered in Salem Saturday morning to join the caravan talked about the traumatic impact of separating family members.
Lorena Manzo, a community organizer with Causa, said Saturday’s action was “really important” to her. She spoke in Spanish and a community organizer translated.
“Their crime in the eyes of the system is only the way that they migrated,” Manzo said.
Manzo said the event was important because the people in the detention center needed support and the caravan was to give them a sense of hope and show them they are not alone.
The group also demanded Gov. Kate Brown end transfers to the facility from the Department of Corrections in Oregon.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reduced the number of unauthorized immigrants detained in the Tacoma facility and more than 200 facilities ICE oversees, 15,000 people remain incarcerated.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union referenced the low number of incarcerated immigrants in a letter sent last month to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urging him and the Biden administration to close 39 ICE facilities.
“As a matter of good governance, and particularly in light of the historically low number of people in ICE detention, it is time for ICE to dramatically downscale its network,” wrote Ronald Newman, the national political director of the ACLU.
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Last year, multiple hunger strikes broke out at the detention center to protest a lack of safeguards against COVID-19. A total of 38 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 while in custody at the Tacoma facility since February 2020.
“For years, detainees have suffered from abuse by guards and inadequate medical care and food,” the AFSC said in a statement.
Additionally, a report from the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights released last year found the Tacoma center continuously violated ICE’s own policies by detaining “people longer… in solitary confinement than any other dedicated ICE facility in the nation” and frequently using solitary confinement against mentally ill immigrants and people protesting within the NWDC.
“While Gov. Inslee took the powerful step to end new contracts with for-profit prisons and detention centers by recently signing HB1090 into law, the NWDC needs to be shut down now,” the AFSC statement said.
Dianne Lugo is a reporter at the Statesman Journal. Contact her at email@example.com.