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

Immigrants speak out about conditions after suspension of worker program at Tacoma ICE facility

A man in a dark blue or black prison uniform mops a long corridor that has white floors.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
A detainee mops a floor in a hallway of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma during a media tour of the facility in 2017.

Ever since GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Tacoma, suspended its detainee worker program last month, some immigrants have been speaking out about conditions deteriorating.

GEO Group suspended its worker program after a federal jury ruled in October that the company must pay detainees the $13 Washington state minimum wage for cooking, cleaning and other work. Previously GEO Group had paid detainees as little as $1 a day to complete such tasks.

GEO Group has contracted Trustus Commercial Cleaning to do some of the work. A representative at the cleaning company said they clean the ICE facility three times a day but declined to answer other questions. Some detainees, however, say the cleaning company is not at the facility often enough to keep bathrooms, floors and other common areas used by hundreds of detainees clean.

Israel Arrascue has been at the ICE detention center in Tacoma for about two years. The 43-year-old father originally from Peru says he worries about his health, especially as COVID-19 cases spike around the world. More than 300 people have already tested positive for the disease at the ICE facility in Tacoma. Across the country, more than 31,000 detainees at immigration detention facilities have tested positive for COVID.

According to ICE, more than 47,000 detainees have been vaccinated, but only about 500 have received a booster shot so far.

Arrascue says he and others have a right to a clean space, even if detained. He says since the Washington state Attorney General's Office won the lawsuit against GEO Group requiring the company to pay the minimum wage, he isn't allowed to help clean.

“GEO Group prefers to pay this company more to do a worse job at cleaning than pay us the minimum wage,” Arrascue said in a recent interview from the detention facility. "We have the right to that money."

Arrascue, who has asthma and prediabetes, says he contracted COVID in August and still suffers from side effects.

GEO Group did not respond to a request for comment, but in a letter to the Washington state Attorney General’s Office earlier this month, the company said they had contracted a company to clean the facility beginning Nov. 29.

GEO Group does not name the cleaning company but says they plan to have the facility cleaned twice a day. Other tasks – such as barber services – are performed by GEO Group staff, the letter states.

Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to