Activists block streets around Tacoma detention center to protest deportations, detention

About 60 protesters gathered Monday outside the federal immigration detention facility on the Tacoma Tideflats, and blocked streets there to prevent deportations.

No one was deported from the facility, activists said, but that was not because of the protesters, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori Haley said.

She said no removals were halted or postponed because of the blocked streets.

“ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference – provided it does not compromise public safety or security,” she said in a statement.

“Regrettably, demonstrators’ actions today impeded access to the Northwest Detention Center, prompting ICE to postpone several previously scheduled detainee appointments with outside healthcare specialists.”

Families of detainees have told protesters Monday is the day of the week that deportations generally happen.

“But not today,” said Maru Villalpando, one grass-roots organizer.

No buses tried to leave the facility with detainees during the protest, she said.

Activists for immigrant rights, gender equality, the environment and other causes formed the coalition to protest immigration detention and deportations.

The 60 protesters gathered starting at 5:30 a.m. outside the center, and about 30 blocked the three streets lead to access the center until about noon.

One street was blocked by a group of women in rocking chairs who call themselves the Raging Grannies.

Villalpando said police arrived, but that no one was arrested.

The protest came days after a bill was introduced in Congress to end private prisons and privately run immigration detention facilities within two years.

It’s the work of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

U.S. Rep Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, co-sponsored the House version of the bill.

He represents the Ninth Congressional District, which stretches from the Port of Tacoma to Sammamish, and has called in recent years for greater oversight of detention facilities.

“Hopefully it will have some traction,” Villalpando said of the legislation. “Like any bill in Congress, nothing moves. But at least some people in Congress realize that this has become a business. Any detention is wrong, but it’s especially wrong when it’s for profit.”

Asked Monday for comment on the bill, Pablo Paez, GEO vice president of corporate relations, referred The News Tribune to a March 2014 company statement. GEO contracts with ICE to run the Northwest Detention Center.

The statement says in part: “GEO’s immigration facilities, including the Northwest Detention Center, provide high quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.”