Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

City of Tacoma Warns Protesters Camped Outside Immigrant Detention Center

Will James
Tacoma Police officers look on as workers install signs at an encampment outside the Northwest Detention Center on July 2, 2018

Tacoma officials are sending a warning to protesters who have been camped outside the Northwest Detention Center for more than a week.

City workers on Monday installed a row of metal signs alongside the encampment declaring tents, tarps, and gazebos "subject to removal" if they're in the public right-of-way.

Per Tacoma law, "it is unlawful to use right-of-way for private purposes without written permission from the City of Tacoma," the signs read, in part. 

A Tacoma spokeswoman declined to say whether the city would remove makeshift gazebo-style structures set up near the detention center's fence.

"Community members demonstrating outside the Northwest Detention Center, who are exercising their First Amendment rights in a lawful and safe manner, can continue to be there," the spokeswoman said.

Protesters said they took care to set up their structures outside the right-of-way. Tacoma law defines the right-of-way as "the traveled portion of the public streets and alleys, as well as the border area," including sidewalks, medians, planting strips, and traffic circles, a city spokeswoman said.

Tacoma Police officers looked on as the signs were installed.

One of the signs city workers were installing outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on July 2, 2018

Between five and 10 protesters were there as well. 

"I want to be here," said Laura Powell, a stay-at-home mother who said she has been visiting the encampment on a near-daily basis.

Powell said she was present when Tacoma Police clashed with protesters and made 10 arrests during a rally on June 26.

"When we were pushed out, I was deflated and I wanted to come back," she added. "Because it truly feels like it is our time.” 

Protesters said they oppose the Trump administration's immigration policies, including the practice of separating children from parents crossing illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Roughly 50 parents who were separated from their children were transferred to the Northwest Detention Center last month, according to the advocacy group Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

Some protesters also said they supported the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and an end to privately-run detention facilities like the Northwest Detention Center, which is operated by the GEO Group, Inc. 

One hand-drawn sign at the encampment read, "Abolish ICE, open all borders." 

The encampment has drawn black-masked "anti-fascist" protesters as well as families with children.

Powell said not everyone agrees on policy, but they broadly oppose the way the Trump administration is handling illegal immigration and Tacoma's role in detaining immigrants accused of being in the country illegally.

She said the city's warning is a sign their message is being heard.

"When someone tells you that you can't do something, that's because you're starting to have power," Powell said.

Credit Will James / KNKX
An encampment set up by protesters outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, as seen on July 2, 2018

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.