Politics & Government

Rep. Kilmer's detention center visit canceled over security concerns and chicken pox exposures

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer spent a couple hours cooling his heels Saturday at the Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma's tide flats.

Kilmer planned to visit detainees held there but was denied due to a chicken pox quarantine.

Spurred by President Donald Trump's policies on separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border, Kilmer, a Democrat representing Washington's 6th Congressional District, came to the facility to meet with detainees.

"We'd still like to meet with people who have been detained and separated from their children to understand their stories and the impacts of the president's policies, which I think is very misguided," Kilmer said.

He had arranged to take a tour of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in SeaTac but subsequently learned a number of people there have been transferred to the Tacoma facility. He said he arranged to tour that facility instead.

"That was on track up until yesterday evening when we were notified that the tour was canceled out of safety concerns," he said outside the Tacoma facility Saturday afternoon.

Protests against the family separation policy occurred at detention facilities across the nation Saturday. ICE canceled Kilmer's tour over protest related concerns, he said.

Kilmer, and a steady stream of families, took advantage of the facility's regularly scheduled visiting hours Saturday. Kilmer planned to visit three detainees.

Each time Kilmer provided a name he was told the same thing: All were in quarantine due to chicken pox exposure.

Geo Group, the company that runs the facility for the government, said access decisions are made by ICE.

Kilmer wasn't the only one denied a visit Saturday.

Katherine Heishman of Federal Way was told she couldn't visit her partner, Marco, with the couple's infant daughter, Donna. The reason: chicken pox exposure.

Marco had been picked up by law enforcement Wednesday on his way to work. He is the sole supporter of the family of five, Heishman said.

She only knew something was amiss when her daughter spotted Marco's abandoned car near their apartment.

"I don't know why they would come and get him if he didn't commit a crime," she said outside the detention facility's main gate. "He works 10 hours a day. He gives us everything we need."

Nearby, a growing line of tents was being erected. The occupy-style tents are going up as a long-term form of protest, people said. Their goal: The abolishment of ICE.

About 75 people were busy unloading supplies, raising a latrine tent and hanging tarps.

Angie, from Puyallup, who declined to give her last name, said she was the second to arrive on Thursday. She planned on staying until September if needed.

"Our biggest push now is to spread the word," Angie said. To that effort, the group will honk horns, bang pots and make any kind of noise they can twice a day — at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

"To let the detainees in there know we're out here in support," she said.

The protest and noise-making will be peaceful, said Tacoma resident Kathy Lawhon.

"It's cathartic to get our anger and frustration out as citizens, that this happening in our city," Lawhon said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor