'Center of Detention': How we got the story

Staff reportSeptember 9, 2012 

“Center of Detention” reflects reporting conducted in parts of 2010, 2011 and 2012 during a first-of-its kind reporting partnership for The News Tribune with an independent journalism nonprofit.

TNT reporter Lewis Kamb teamed with reporter Carol Smith of Seattle-based InvestigateWest to interview more than 75 people, attend various hearings and review more than 20,000 pages of records. TNT photographer Dean Koepfler chronicled some of the interviews and other events to capture the special report’s visual elements.

Records obtained and reviewed include paper documents, audio files and video records. Such records, if not otherwise publicly available, were obtained directly from private individuals or in response to state and federal public records requests.

The reporters conducted interviews of some immigrants while they were in local or federal custody. When needed, reporters used the services of a trained Spanish-language translator.

Elements of conversation directly quoted in any story are taken from interviews, records or statements made during public hearings.

Instances in which dialogue was recreated are based on recollections of individual immigrants directly involved in the events depicted, and are not labeled within quotation marks. To the extent possible, any sections that depict recreated events were cross-referenced with recollections from witnesses, academic references and/or public records.

The News Tribune and InvestigateWest requested access to the Northwest Detention Center from the federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Officials for ICE and The GEO Group, the center’s owner and operator, gave both reporters and the photographer a tour of the facility in June 2011, but restricted reporters from speaking to detainees and did not allow Koepfler to take photographs that could identify detainees.

ICE also gave Koepfler additional access in August 2012 to photograph detainees being boarded onto buses bound to Boeing Field for a deportation flight. The agency allowed Smith and Koepfler to interview two detainees while in custody after Smith obtained the detainees’ permission. Kamb and Smith also visited the detention center for court hearings on other occasions.

The federal agency and corporation declined several other requests, including seeking to tour the detention center a second time; attending a detainee’s in-custody visitations with family members; traveling on a deportation flight to Mexico; and conducting interviews with individual ICE agents and the detention center’s GEO-employed warden.

Most of ICE’s for-the-record responses included in the special report required reporters to first submit questions in writing. ICE attorneys in Washington, D.C., reviewed the questions and took more than a month before providing responses to some questions. Responses generally were provided in writing via email, by a spokesman based in ICE’s Seattle Field Office. Most written questions were not answered.

The GEO Group, after initially declining several requests for interviews, submitted a statement in writing after Kamb emailed a local attorney for the company last month with a list of specific questions related to issues being raised in the stories. GEO’s statement did not specifically address any of the questions, but provided a general response about the detention center’s operations.

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