On September 21, 2015, a direct action led by the Northwest Detention Center Resistance to demand an end to detentions and deportations. About 25 activists were able to shut down the detention center to prevent the morning’s deportation buses from leaving.  • Courtesy Photo
On September 21, 2015, a direct action led by the Northwest Detention Center Resistance to demand an end to detentions and deportations. About 25 activists were able to shut down the detention center to prevent the morning’s deportation buses from leaving. • Courtesy Photo

Ending the road to detention, growing an intersectional movement

When I think about who raised me in the social justice movement, instantly Maru Mora-Villalpando and her daughter Josefina Mora come to mind. Invited into their family and community for the last eight years, I have learned so much from them—on how to organize, how to love myself and others, and how to be brave and fight for the ones you love. 

It is that love and bravery that encouraged me to join Maru, Josefina, and 20 others—mostly women, queer, trans, and youth—to chain ourselves together in metal and plastic containers to prevent the morning’s deportation buses from leaving the privately run detention center in Tacoma. This action organized by Northwest Detention Resistance Coalition brought us together in order to protest the injustice of for-profit detention centers and their collaboration with local police departments, a system which Maru often refers to as the “Road to detention.”

Last year’s action on February 24, 2014 inspired a 50-day hunger strike and work stoppage from within, involving 1,200 detainees and bringing local and national attention to the Northwest Detention Center as one of the largest immigration prisons in the country, with a capacity to hold up to 1,575 immigrants.  Up to 200 people, mostly women, many of whom are seeking asylum, are transferred from the U.S.-Mexico border to the detention center each month.

To the left of me on the lockbox chain, I got to know Elizabeth Ortega, a queer mixed latinx artist and alternative educator who works with youth. “We are calling for an end to all immigrant deportations and detentions, because communities throughout the Global South are losing their self-sufficiency and autonomy as their land,  waters,  food, air, and cultural ways of living are being bought and stripped away.”

Elizabeth is absolutely right—ending immigrant deportations is an environmental issue. Firstly, the detention center is on a superfund site, exposing the detainees to pollution 24/7. Then, climate change has worsened drought and super-storm conditions, displacing millions across the globe. According to the CARE International report, climate refugees will number 200 million by 2050. The United Nations conversations on climate change in Paris this December must include conversations about the ending of unjust deportations and detentions in the United States, while rejecting large scale resource extraction and market-based solutions, which worsen environmental conditions in communities of color here and everywhere.

The Road to Detention is a gender justice issue. According to a recent report by Fusion, ICE has the controversial practice of placing transgender detainees in solitary confinement. “Over 300 people are in solitary confinement in ICE custody every night, including many trans detainees. … ICE houses 75 trans detainees each night, 90 percent of them are transgender women.” Meanwhile transgender women only make up 1 out of 500 detained immigrants in this country, and make up an alarming 1 out of every 5 confirmed sexual assaults in immigration detention.

Lastly, what it really comes down to is about making profit. A contractual provision obligates ICE to pay for a minimum of 800 immigration detention beds daily to the GEO Group, the private prison corporation that runs the facility. These so-called “guaranteed minimums” require payment to private contractors whether beds are filled or not, creating considerable pressure for ICE to keep the beds at the detention center full.

“The government could close these detention centers today and end the practice of corporations profiting from imprisoning human beings,” said Maru from the blockade. “Ensure all its residents have access to quality food and healthy homes, and change its international policies to create fair trade for people and the planet. People should not be forced to migrate, and those already here should be allowed to remain with their families and communities.”   

The lockboxes on our arms were certainly not comfortable, but it’s nothing compared to the conditions which detainees experience inside those walls or how this Road to Detention ruins lives and separates families.

“Everything is connected,” Elizabeth said. “Everything. We need to start building bridges instead of walls. And we are not going to stop. The U.S. has a long history of violating civil and human rights. These stories and voices need to be heard.”

Just like the chant we often say at the gates of the detention center so loudly that those inside can hear, “No están solos,” or “You are not alone,” the Northwest Detention Center Resistance Coalition, Got Green, Rising Tide, Raging Grannies, the Trans and/or Women’s Action Camp and others working for climate justice, food sovereignty, gender justice, and workers’ rights will grow this intersectional movement, and keep returning here for future actions as long as unjust detentions and deportations continue. 

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