About 50 protesters stood in solidarity in front of the Northwest Detention Center yesterday morning, with more than a dozen of them chaining themselves together to block the traffic leaving the center’s parking lot.
It was Monday — the day of the week when the federal authorities usually send detainees from the Tacoma facility to the airport to fly them back to their countries of origin. Protesters blocked a bus and two vans holding deportees that were attempting to leave the facility.
“It’s a nationwide sentiment that in both documented and undocumented communities, we all agree that it’s time to stop deportation regardless of what’s happening at Congress’ level,” said one of the demonstrators — Latino Advocacy founder Maru Mora-Villalpando.
The action was part of a nationwide campaign launched by National Day Laborer Organizing Network. So far, more than a dozen cities have seen similar demonstrations, including Phoenix, San Francisco and Chicago.
Demonstrators participating in the “Not One More Deportation” campaign in Tacoma said they were taking matters into their own hands, tired of waiting for policy solutions to de-escalate deportations in the U.S., which climbed to a record high of 400,000 in 2012. They called on President Obama to enact deferred action for all.
“The truth is, it’s past time. Our patience is gone,” said demonstrator Jolinda Stephens, a coordinator with Tacoma-based Washington Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice who protested in Arizona against Senate Bill 1070 in 2010. “I have been waiting for an action like this since I moved back to this area a few months ago. The people in the detention center are my neighbors.”
In Washington state, more than 2,500 residents have been deported since the Secure Communities deportation program was activated in parts of the state in April 2012.
The Northwest Detention Center is the largest detention facility on the West Coast, holding up to 1,600 detainees. Beyond the protest, Mora-Villalpando says she hopes to lobby the State Legislature to reduce the number of detainees in county prisons in Washington and draw attention to the larger prison industrial complex phenomenon.
Though she and her group did not participate in the protest on Monday, activist Robin Jacobson, who chairs the Tacoma-based Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest (formerly Northwest Detention Center Roundtable), was enthused to see fellow advocates leading a direct action.
“I think it’s really great that there are a range of different approaches to working on the question of immigration detention,” she said.
Among other contributors, Jacobson attributes increases in immigrant detainment to a mandatory bed quota for prisons in congressional appropriations.
“(The mandate) says they have to detain 34,000 people a day in order to have their budget,” she said, “and so this creates a false need for detention and prison systems around the country.”
For those in front of the detention center yesterday who were undocumented themselves, the possibility that they could be arrested and deported was a risk worth taking.
“We’re all connected to someone who is undocumented or lives in the shadows,” said Seattle protestor and Got Green director Jill Mangaliman. “It was powerful to see people not be afraid anymore and see people say, ‘I am undocumented. I don’t want to be afraid anymore.’”
Though hundreds of protests have taken place in front of the Northwest Detention Center since it opened in Tacoma in 2004, this was the first time a major demonstration disrupted deportation operations as part of a national campaign.
“This is the first [protest] of its kind in Washington state, but it won’t be the last,” said Mora-Villalpando.