The last several months have been harrowing for many who fight for better conditions with immigrant rights in western Washington. This month on Jan. 30, the group of activists known as the “Cantwell Six,” named for their protest at Washington U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office, are set to continue their federal trial in Seattle.
The activists sought tangible action from the senator to address terrible conditions at immigrant concentration camps along the southern U.S. border.
Late last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sued University of Washington Professor Angelina Godoy over Freedom of Information Act requests about secretive detention, “black” sites in Washington that operate without proper oversight. The UW Center for Human Rights, which Godoy founded and directs, has unearthed information about decrepit conditions at ICE detention facilities in Washington state as well as regional infrastructure used for facilitating deportation actions with little attention to due process.
Also of note the last several months is the deliberate rebranding of the infamous Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Stakeholders of the detention center rechristened the immigrant jail as the “Northwest ICE Processing Center,” an innocuous moniker that distances itself from its history of abuse and neglect and, literally, subtracts the entity’s primary purpose. Make no mistake, the prison did not change its name to fit a shift in philosophy.
What stands out in these examples are how they illustrate a two-pronged approach of systematically erasing complicity in human rights abuses, while simultaneously suppressing the voices of activists who decry these violations.
The immigrant detention actors are utilizing their power to repress any attempt to hold them accountable. In the case of Cantwell, reluctance to act and address the issue further codifies ICE’s modus operandi as an entity operating with impunity, and in many ways, encouraged to do so by this administration.
The danger, of course, is that this level of retaliation against activists, scholars and detention center strikers, is bolstered by the process of erasure. There are very real efforts to not only scrub these abuses from the record, but also allow them to fall out of memory and out public view. Out of sight, out of mind in general discourse. People are actually dying from the brutality of ICE apparatus under this shameless administration. We must not look away.
As community members, we must support the efforts of people who jeopardize their careers, livelihoods and reputations to stand in solidarity with people who are denied basic human dignity. We must stay informed, continue holding politicians and institutions accountable, and understand that we are not free if others continue to suffer. We are in for a long struggle in 2020. La lucha continua.
Read the full Jan. 22-28 issue.
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