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Alarm grows as more test positive for COVID-19 at ICE detention center in Tacoma

COVID cases are on the rise at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma.
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press file
COVID cases are on the rise at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma.

Immigrant rights activists are sounding the alarm over the greater number of detainees testing positive for the coronavirus at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Tacoma, as more and more people are transferred to the Pacific Northwest from the southern border. 

Nearly 50 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility in recent months as the population there has steadily inched upward. Roughly 500 detainees are currently housed at the facility, according to ICE spokesperson David Yost. 

 

The number of detainees in Tacoma is still well below the facility’s maximum capacity of more than 1,500 but has grown since the worst of the pandemic in the U.S. Nationally, the population in ICE detention has doubled since earlier this year to nearly 30,000. 

 

Austin Kocher with the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University tracks immigration trends and said most detainees are likely coming from one place.

 

“ICE arrests and detentions remain remarkably low across the board, really historic lows. And they just have really not gone back up at all, which means interior enforcement is clearly not a priority at this point for this administration. But border arrests and detentions have,” Kocher said, referring to the Biden administration. 

 

Danielle Surkatty is part of the Yakima Immigrant Response Network, a group that monitors the transfer of immigrants to the ICE facility in Tacoma. Surkatty said she and others saw approximately 500 detainees land in Yakima in June alone before being transferred by bus to Tacoma. Surkatty said she suspects many of the detainees are asylum seekers.  

 

Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist with the group La Resistencia, said once inside the facility, people are “extremely worried” about the rising number of COVID-19 cases. She said the detainees are concerned about being infected by a guard or others with whom they are housed. 

 

 “The safety of individuals housed at the NWIPC (Northwest ICE Processing Center) is of paramount importance and a critical element of ICE's operating procedures,” Yost said in a statement.

 

Activists have also recently raised concerns about the transfer of people in prison to the ICE facility in Tacoma. Last month, the Liberation Not Deportation Coalition, made up of dozens of community organizations, asked Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to prevent the Department of Corrections from sharing information with ICE. The groups pointed out that Inslee banned private prisons earlier this year. The ICE detention facility in Tacoma is run by the private prison company GEO Group.

 

Inslee “should implement the true spirit of the law he signed and declare that the state will not enable one more person to languish in for-profit facilities,” read a June letter

 

The groups said the governor should not reincarcerate immigrants who have completed their criminal sentence but “respect their freedom.”