TACOMA, Wash. – Tacoma city leaders are concerned about increased deportations in the wake of recent presidential executive orders.
"You hear stories about families that are scared for their future,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “You hear stories about students who don't know what the fate of their family will be. You hear stories about families who are going to be torn apart, and that doesn't help a community at all."
In Washington, the first stop for undocumented immigrants detained by the federal government is the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, which holds more than 1,500 people. It is owned by Geo Group, a private company that contracts with the federal government to run the facility.
Strickland has concerns about how detainees and employees are treated at the facility.
"A lot of people who are at our detention center have not committed a serious crime,” she said. “How do we make sure we're being humane and also making sure that we're making sure this facility treats people with respect and dignity."
She wrote an open letter to the CEO of Geo Group saying the city can suspend the business license of the center if detainees aren't being treated fairly.
"By sending this letter I wanted to send a message to them that you're on notice; we're watching,” said Strickland. “We have the power to revoke or suspend their business license, and they need to make sure that they are in fact obeying local state and federal law with due process with how they're treating the people who are detained there and also who work there.”
Geo Group responded to Strickland writing that the group had always had a positive relationship with regulators and they don’t wish to change their historical practices.
Those who have been working locally to expose allegations against the Northwest Detention Center are supportive of Strickland’s letter.
"It's about time,” said Tomas Madrigal, a member of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance group.
"We would actually like for the Northwest Detention Center here in Tacoma not to exist any longer as a business," he said.
The center is not expected to close but city leaders did pass emergency legislation this week to block any further expansion of the center for the next six months.
"We didn't necessarily hear that something is coming,” said Marty Campbell, who introduced the ordinance. “We wanted to take a look at our code…before there’s any emerging issues before us.”
The ordinance reads in part:
“Recent changes in the national political climate have led to uncertainty about the need for potential expansion at correctional facilities in communities such as Tacoma.”
A spokesperson for Geo Group also responded to the recent legislation.
“We can confirm that we have no plans to expand or build new facilities in Tacoma. We look forward to having an opportunity to meet with City and local leaders to dispel the misinformation about our company. Contrary to certain misconceptions, our company has never taken a position on or advocated for or against any specific immigration policies. All such decisions and determinations are made entirely by the Federal government. Our facilities, including the Tacoma facility, are highly rated and provide high-quality services pursuant to the Federal Government’s national performance based standards as well as guidelines set by leading, independent accreditation entities. Our long-standing partnership as a service provider to the Federal Government has helped provide culturally responsive, safe, and humane environments that meet the non-penal needs of the residents in ICE’s care. We are proud of our historically strong performance record as a service provider helping meet the government’s needs while treating our residents with the respect and dignity they deserve.”