Fighting to close the North West Detention Center with La Resistencia

By: Destiny Valencia

Hidden in the port of Tacoma on the other side of town is the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest holding centers for immigrants owned by the for-profit GEO Group. This center can hold up to 1,575 people within its walls.

La Resistencia, a grassroots organization, aims to shut down this for-profit holding center and works alongside those who are detained to raise awareness and help these individuals be released back to their families.

“With so much going on inside and outside of the detention center, our communications team works to spread the messages of people detained at the Northwest Detention Center. We’re in our third year of our #FreeThemAll campaign which shares stories directly from people held in the detention center. Our goal is to share as many of these stories as we can,” Ashley Del Villar said, a volunteer of La Resistencia.

There have been a lot of new developments in the past year for the group. Last year, Governor Jay Inslee signed Bill 1090 which bans for profit prison systems in Washington state. Volunteers at La Resistencia were directly involved in fighting for this bill, but GEO’s contract does not end until 2025 in Washington, which means that people are still being detained and deported in the meantime. 

“Right now, we want to shut down the Northwest Detention Center before 2025 and while we’re at it, we will continue to do the work to end detention and deportation everywhere,” Villar said.

In late 2021, GEO was ordered to pay $23 million in lawsuits due to the company’s use of detainees for labor in the detention center. GEO is accused of paying individuals who are detained at the center less than a dollar a day for work that includes cleaning or cooking.

“Many people have reached out to us, all of them people we knew when they were detained. We are informing them that GEO is trying to do everything they can to not pay them. We need to continue fighting and ensure people get their stolen wages back, but also those currently in detention need to have their jobs back with the minimum wage paid for their labor while they are detained,” Maru Mora Villalpando said, an organizer and advocate for the group.

To fund their efforts, La Resistencia held an anniversary fundraiser on March 6 that included food, drinks, and an auction with items such as handmade shoes, magnets, purses and a variety of goods donated by the community. Most of these funds will be deposited and go into individual’s commissary accounts and the remainder will go towards volunteers as a stipend for the full-time work they do in the group.

La Resistencia has three public campaigns for Diego, Carlos, and Jose, individuals who have been detained since the beginning of COVID. La Resistencia will soon be launching a new campaign for a fellow organizer Cristian, who was detained, deported, paroled back into the country in August, and then detained back in February. They will be holding a solidarity event for him on March 26 outside of the detention center.

“We will continue exposing the dangers the Northwest Detention Center poses to everyone detained and everyone in Tacoma. We know there is not one way to make sure the detention center is closed for good; we need to continue listening to the leadership of those detained and allow the space for the wisdom of those formerly detained and their loved ones to create strategies, that combined, will ensure the early closing of the prison,” Villalpando said.

If you would like to get involved with La Resistencia, you can follow them on Instagram @LaResistencia for updates and events.

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