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News / Northwest

Washington immigration rights activists say they faced harassment, intimidation in Tacoma

Groups: Encampment outside detention center vandalized

By Rosemary Montalvo, The News Tribune (Tacoma)
Published: March 31, 2024, 5:22pm

Members of immigrant rights groups La Resistencia and Tsuru for Solidarity allege their encampment outside the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma was met with intimidation recently.

La Resistencia started an encampment outside the center on March 12 in response to the death of 61-year-old Charles Leo Daniel. He was found unresponsive in his cell at the privately run federal immigration detention center on March 7.

Tacoma police spokesperson Detective William Muse previously told The News Tribune that staff found Daniel slumped off his bed and dragged him into a hallway to perform medical aid. Tacoma Fire Department personnel continued to try to resuscitate him upon arrival, but Daniel was declared dead at 11:35 a.m. His cause of death has not yet been identified.

In the wake of Daniel’s death, members of La Resistencia and Tsuru for Solidarity, along with other volunteers, committed to monitoring the detention center, 1623 E. J St., 24 hours a day while also showing support for the detainees, some of whom are on their third hunger strike of the year. The facility previously was known as the Northwest Detention Center.

La Resistencia shared a dash-cam video on its Instagram page that shows a pickup driving in front of the facility down East J Street at high speeds and then parking directly in front of the encampment with its engine running and high beams pointed in the direction of the vigil for about 20 minutes on March 23. According to the post, the person was driving a brown Nissan Titan with spiked rims, tinted windows, no license plates and a “MAGA” flag.

Becca Asaki, director of organizing at Tsuru for Solidarity, witnessed the incident. She said in an interview that protesters also were harassed on March 24 by a man driving a truck down J Street who slowed down, yelled at members of La Resistencia and gave them the middle finger.

Asaki said she believes the two incidents were meant to intimidate and target people at their encampment, which “is a real significant security concern.” She added that a person from the encampment security team called 911 to report the March 23 incident but authorities did not respond.

Muse confirmed in an interview that there was a record of a call being received at 8:49 p.m. March 23 and that nearby patrols were notified but no officer was dispatched.

Muse wrote in an email that law enforcement response was optional because the caller requested law enforcement to “drive by and make a presence” but there was no request for contact.

“Depending upon how the information was received, it was very much possible that the person did not believe or didn’t articulate that they wanted contact with law enforcement officers, or rather, to file a report or something like that,” Muse said. “That happens sometimes.”

Asaki said she called the non-emergency line to report the incident that occurred the next day and to request assistance but authorities did not respond.

“When the truck came, it left relatively quickly, so I called the Tacoma police on the non-emergency number just to document and let them know what was happening, and again, I asked them to come here,” Asaki said. “They didn’t come.”

Worried about safety

After waiting to see if local authorities would arrive, members of the group decided it’d be best to leave the encampment for their safety.

Vilma Arias, a member of La Resistencia, said the eight protesters at the encampment on March 23 were frightened and did not want to stay at the site. She added that the organizers made the decision to reduce the hours of monitoring the detention center from 24 hours to six hours to reduce the opportunity for harassment.

Maru Mora-Villalpando, founder of La Resistencia, said at a press conference on March 25 that the group did not call authorities to feel safe but instead to document the incident. She said the police’s failure to respond proved to her that they are not there to protect everybody.

Mora-Villalpando also said that shortly after the pickup left, members of La Resistencia said they saw a Washington State Patrol vehicle parked around the corner of the facility near St. Paul Avenue and East 15th Street. She added that as the group was leaving the encampment on March 23, they saw a Tacoma Police Department patrol vehicle parked less than 1,000 feet from the detention center on East J Street and East 15th Street. Muse was unable to confirm if there was a patrol vehicle in that area.

Trooper Dakota Russell, the Washington State Patrol public information officer, said in an interview that there was no record of any troopers responding to a call in that area and the trooper could’ve just been there are the right time.

“If (the Tacoma Police Department) were to request assistance from us, we would be able help them, but if they didn’t show up, then I highly doubt that we would show up,” Russell said.

At the press conference on March 25, Asaki and Mora-Villalpando called on U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to make a statement regarding the situations that have unfolded at the detention throughout the month. Members of La Resistencia and Tsuru for Solidarity met with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Cantwell’s staff on March 19 to discuss the death that happened inside the detention center and to discuss actions that the senators plan to take to prevent future deaths inside the facility. Mora-Villalpando said Murray released a statement on March 19 but Cantwell did not.

According to Murray’s statement shared by her staff with La Resistencia, Murray said the unsanitary conditions, excessive use of solitary confinement and reports of mistreatment at the detention center are unacceptable, and she has pressed the detention center to release information and to allow her staff on the premises to see the conditions for themselves.

Cantwell’s staff later shared a statement with The News Tribune that is similar to Murray’s in that she calls for the conditions and overuse of solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center to be investigated.

“We are out here mourning the death of Charles Leo Daniel; we are out here protesting the conditions inside and standing in solidarity with those incarcerated in Northwest Detention Center; and we think it’s very important that we highlight that there was not a sufficient response to keep people in this encampment safe,” Asaki said.

Encampment vandalized

Wendy Pantoja, a member of La Resistencia, told The News Tribune that when her group arrived at the detention center at noon March 28, they found that their canopy along with the altar that was made in Daniel’s memory had been vandalized.

The group posted photos on its Instagram page that shows what the encampment looked like after it was vandalized.

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