Live from immigration detention

August 22, 2018

Brian Huseby and Steve Leigh report on a protest outside a Tacoma, Washington, detention center that featured detainees talking to the crowd via speakerphone.

MOMENTUM HAS built all summer in the movement against the inhumane machinery of mass detention and deportation of immigrants. In many places, the next step for organizers is to figure out how to centrally involve targeted immigrants and their loved ones in order to build a more powerful and durable movement.

An August 12 action outside the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, was an important step in this direction. The rally, organized by Northwest Detention Center Resistance, featured family members of detainees and live calls with detainees inside NWDC.

The protest of over 50 people began with the daughter of ShaCorrie Wimbley Tunkara, a mother of two whose husband Saja is in detention, leading the crowd in chanting, “This is not right! I’ll continue to fight!” “Let them be free, just like me!” and “No more separation! Say no to deportation!”

ShaCorrie then spoke about the ordeal that her family is going through as the result of Saja’s detention:

We have been living a battle against injustice for months. My husband had a tumor on the right side of his neck. He has mobility issues with one arm and is going blind in both eyes. If they are sick, they should let them out. He is not the only one suffering there. He was born a human being so he should have human rights! They’re playing with people’s lives. I’m in therapy. My children are suffering with PTSD. This rally is our family’s support. Keep coming and recruit who you can.

Protesters stand up to ICE outside the Northwest Detention Center
Protesters stand up to ICE outside the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC Resistance/Resistencia al NWDC)

ShaCorrie also spoke of having to establish a GoFundMe account to try to meet the overwhelming medical and counseling expenses facing the family due to Saja’s detention.

The Northwest Detention Center is the largest detention facility on the West Coast, with a holding capacity of 1,575 people. It’s managed by GEO, the largest company in the private prison industry.

The Northwest Detention Center Resistance (NWDCR) was formed in 2014 to support detainee hunger strikes and other forms of resistance against their mistreatment at the hands of the prison. The NYDCR has undertaken many types of activities, including organizing monthly protests at the prison.

AT THE August 12 rally, ShaCorrie was followed by two detainees inside NWDC who told their stories to the crowd via phone hook-up.

“We have to wait two hours to go to the infirmary,” said Ricardo Martinez. “The bedding is dirty. The restrooms are bad. The showers are moldy. They give us bad food.”

“There is one man in a wheelchair for 27 years,” Martinez continued. “The tables aren’t set up for wheelchairs, so the inmates have to bring him food. I have a hernia and need surgery. They told me, ‘We don’t give surgeries.’ I also have a hand injury.”

A detainee named Abel added to the picture of misery inside the prison:

I have been detained for three months. I have an infection in my back, but have received no treatment. Non-English speakers are discriminated against. I have a head injury and have received no treatment. Due to my head injury, there was no way I could represent myself before ICE [in a deportation hearing].

I also have glaucoma, but am on a waiting list for treatment. Many people inside need medical treatment. They give us small portions of food. People are hungry! For the one-dollar-a-day program, they don’t give us training or equipment. They say that we are treated well, but that is all lies! Thank you to everyone who cares!

These testimonies were followed with the crowd chanting “¡No estan solos!” (You are not alone!)

The final speaker was Maru Mora Villalpando, a leading immigrant justice activist in the area, who is herself facing deportation proceedings. Maru concluded the protest by putting the rally in the context of the wider struggle in Washington State and across the country:

We’ve won a class action law suit to get back pay for the inmates on the dollar a day program. Notice that we are not talking about “family reunification.” They are unifying families and deporting them. We want freedom!

We care for everyone who is in cages. That’s why we support the No Youth Jail campaign. The same architects who designed NWDC are designing the new youth jail in Seattle. The system tries to divide us: employed and unemployed, incarcerated and not. We can’t accept their divisions. We fail if we accept their divisions.

We fight for all! We are working with people in The Dalles [the location of another detention facility in Oregon] and in California. People in New York know about Tacoma. We are a model for resistance because we talk to the detainees. We don’t believe in politicians, but politicians should do their jobs! They should talk to the detainees. We are not for managing detention. No detentions! No deportations!

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