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Another WA agency sues private prison company running ICE facility

The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in April 2020.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in April 2020.

Florida-based private prison company GEO Group has been hit with another lawsuit by a Washington state agency.

The Department of Labor and Industries has sued GEO Group because it has not allowed officials to inspect the Northwest ICE Processing Center. The Department of Health filed a similar lawsuit after officials were turned away twice while trying to enter the facility for inspection.

Last year, State Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, helped pass a law that was supposed to strengthen the right state agencies have to conduct unannounced inspections at the facility.

"Obviously, they have something to hide," Ortiz-Self said when asked about the lawsuits. "And that to me, is a tragedy. And that is why we feel like when you do business in the State of Washington, we're going to hold you accountable."

The Department of Labor and Industries filed the lawsuit last month in Pierce County Superior Court. In court documents, labor officials say they have made unannounced inspections at the facility before and have found safety violations.

In an email, Chris Ferreira, a spokesperson for GEO Group said: "As a matter of policy, GEO does not comment on pending litigation. GEO looks forward to fully addressing all issues that have been raised by both sides in Court."

"As a service provider on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we are proud of our long-standing record of providing high quality services to those entrusted to our care," he continued.

Earlier this month, the activist group La Resistencia announced that they had obtained a video with the help of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

The video shows that last year, guards used chemical weapons against detainees at the ICE detention center in Tacoma, though it doesn't specify exactly which agents were used. According to La Resistencia, the chemical attack happened when detainees tried to protest and stage a hunger strike.

Meanwhile, detainees just ended another hunger strike at the facility over what they said is a lack of decent food and cleanliness. Detainees also said their immigration cases aren’t being processed in a timely manner.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

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