Demonstrators gathered outside the Tacoma ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Processing Center last week, calling attention to unsafe conditions within the detention center.
La Resistencia, a grassroots organization that advocates for shutting down the detention center, initiated a call for a “People’s Inspection” after they got word from inside that one of the guards employed by Geo Group, the for-profit prison company that runs the center, had tested positive for COVID-19.
According to an ICE spokesperson, all 33 detainees within that guard’s unit tested negative, as of Oct. 11. A governmental database shows one current detainee with a case of COVID-19 at the Tacoma center, as of Oct. 8.
The number of cases at the Tacoma center since the beginning of the pandemic totals 16.
The Tacoma ICE Processing Center (formerly the Northwest Detention Center) gained national attention in spring 2020 when the ACLU, along with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, filed a lawsuit on behalf of detainees with medical conditions, urging they be released due to the risk of contracting COVID-19. In August, the Tacoma City Council followed suit, calling for the release of all detainees and the suspension of the Tacoma center’s operations during the pandemic.
Nationally, ICE detention centers have come under scrutiny for their handling of the pandemic; the death toll in ICE custody reached a 15-year high in fiscal year 2020.
La Resistencia’s recent demonstrations lasted Oct. 5-9, with each day focusing on a different health risk within the detention center.
At the beginning, Oct. 5, demonstrations focused on the failure of ICE and Geo to follow public health guidelines related to the coronavirus. Maru Mora-Villalpando, the leader of La Resistencia, said detainees aren’t given sufficient personal protective equipment and guards often fail to comply with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.
Mora-Villalpando said the detainees she talked to first learned that a guard tested positive when they asked him why he was wearing a mask — which they claim was unusual.
The protests also highlighted the use of toxic cleaning chemicals in ICE detention centers, a history of medical neglect and food that Mora-Villalpando called “inedible,” which has been reported to contain maggots.
Read more in the Oct. 14-20, 2020 issue.