What is the NWDC?
The Northwest Detention Center is the country’s fourth-largest detention center for people awaiting immigration and/or asylum proceedings. NWDC is run by GEO Group, the country’s second-largest private prison operator, through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Detaining immigrants at NWDC rips families apart, robs children of their parents, and brutally incarcerates people who often come to this country looking for safety—and have a legal right to that safety. Yet under the Trump Administration, trafficking victims, asylum-seekers, undocumented parents, and tax-paying neighbors have all become one thing in the eye of the state: criminals, for which companies like GEO can make a profit. Over the years, NWDC has been consistently accused of—and sued for—horrific detention conditions and human rights abuses, such as:
- Record numbers of alleged physical and sexual assaults and wrongful deaths.
- Maggot-infested and frozen meals, food poisoning, and meager rations.
- Inadequate, delayed, or neglectful medical care, including quarantining detainees for potential diseases or health conditions.
- Labor law violations due to a one-dollar-a-day “voluntary” work program mandated by the federal government in which detainees perform almost all non-security related tasks, including “preparing meals, doing laundry and cleaning common areas and restrooms.”
- Dangerous proximity to environmental hazards, including a toxic sludge field, methanol plant, and liquified natural gas facility, resulting in accounts of “exacerbated asthma, respiratory illnesses, and rash outbreaks.”
- Retaliation and abuses of solitary confinement.
How does this impact young people served by YouthCare?
In 2003, YouthCare opened Casa de los Amigos (Casa), a 20-bed facility for unaccompanied, undocumented youth ages 12-17, supported by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The majority of Casa’s youth are fleeing war, gang violence, human trafficking, and extreme poverty. They arrive at Casa de los Amigos with next to nothing. YouthCare works with them to reunite with family or approved sponsors. While they are with us, each young person receives customized supports including legal assistance, case management, physical and mental health care, and bilingual education.
Under federal law, unaccompanied minors who cross the U.S. border are first apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and then transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which sends them to shelters like YouthCare’s Casa de los Amigos. Per the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act passed in 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is required to send unaccompanied minors crossing the border to “the least restrictive setting available.” Yet, on the day of their 18th birthday, legal jurisdiction of these youth transfers from ORR to ICE. Their status in this country radically shifts, and they are suddenly treated as criminals.
Across the country, young people who are staying at ORR facilities and have not found a sponsor by their 18th birthday are being handcuffed and turned over to ICE. While a 2013 amendment to the TVPRA requires ICE to continue the practice of putting youth in “the least restrictive setting” while they work toward finding a sponsor, the majority of these young people are arrested and sent to detention.
In addition to YouthCare’s Casa de los Amigos program, YouthCare also has case managers that work with young people who have experienced labor or sex trafficking. In the last two years, young people from both programs have had parents and family members sent to NWDC, or have been detained there themselves—subjected to the appalling conditions detailed above.
YouthCare believes the City of Tacoma should close the NWDC. A business model—and legal system—that treats immigrants as criminals and profits off of ripping families apart is unconscionable. Immigrants belong with their families, not behind bars. Join us in supporting this campaign here.