Matt Driscoll

Tacoma officials should be supporting immigration protesters, not persecuting them

Tacoma considers itself a “Welcoming City” for immigrants and refugees.

The city’s actions this week, however, speak much louder than any proclamation or ceremonial City Council vote.

The truth is, Tacoma police and city officials have botched their reaction to ongoing protests at the Northwest Detention Center on the Tideflats. In doing so, they’ve delivered what feels like a crystal-clear message on where the city’s allegiance really stands.

At the moment, it’s with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the for-profit detention facility that operates in our midst.

That’s not welcoming.

It’s shameful, particularly in light of Trump’s increasingly ruthless federal immigration policies and a growing list of instances that show ICE is out of control.

Here’s what we know:

Much like they have in jurisdictions across the country, protests targeting ICE and for-profit detention centers have erupted in Tacoma. Late last week, protesters set up camp in front of the NWDC, vowing to make noise and their presence felt.

Their stated goal: abolishing ICE. They vowed they were in it for the long haul.

Less than a week later, the city gave the protesters 24-hour notice to dismantle their tents and structures. The structures, police said, were in violation of Tacoma Municipal Code. Those who failed to comply, according to Tacoma Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool, faced the possibility criminal trespassing charges.

Also this week, Tacoma police arrested 10 individuals protesting outside the NWDC after they say roughly 40 people blocked the roadway and surrounded a police SUV. Meanwhile, witnesses and video reviewed by The News Tribune appear to tell a more complicated, far less malicious story.

Of those 10 people, only two are facing charges. The others were released the next day.

Both examples effectively undermine and silence an important protest while giving cover to the local facility doing the dirty work.

Previously, I’ve argued that merely closing down the NWDC — as citizens in Tacoma have hoped to do for some time — isn’t good enough. Without a change in federal immigration policy, individuals detained at the facility will simply be moved elsewhere, likely to a city that welcomes such a lockup and doesn’t have the support system for immigrants that Tacoma has.

That’s still true. Any protest that focuses solely on ridding Tacoma of the NWDC is selfish and misses the bigger picture. The facility would be evil wherever it was located. This isn’t about Tacoma.

At the same time, largely in response to widespread outrage over the separation of families at the border, it’s clear that the dynamic has shifted.

That’s important.

As the New York Times reported Thursday, officials in at least four jurisdictions across the country have recently ended lucrative contracts with ICE. The decisions, to no great surprise, come largely in response to protests and what the paper describes as “growing discomfort with the Trump administration’s immigration policies.”

In other words, speaking up works, and as a city we should welcome it.

“It just felt inherently unjust for Sacramento to make money from dealing with ICE,” Phil Serna, a Sacramento County supervisor, told the Times. “For me, it came down to an administration that is extremely hostile to immigrants. I didn’t feel we should be part of that.”

Given the circumstances, that’s precisely how Tacoma should feel, too. While our local options for closing down the NWDC are admittedly far more limited, at the very least officials here should be doing everything they can do support citizens willing to stand up and call attention to what’s happening in our backyard.

What they shouldn’t be doing is silencing them because who knows what might come of it?

Keep in mind, actions — as always — speak louder than words.

So, my question to city of Tacoma officials is simple:

What side are you on?

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune