By Alexa Villatoro and the Perilous Editorial Collective
Protestors gathered outside the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, WA Saturday to call for an end to immigrant detention. The demonstration was organized by La Resistencia, a local immigrant rights organizing group, in response to a national call for days of action on August 21 and Sep 9 to commemorate Black August from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a prisoner-organized abolitionist network.
About 40 people gathered at the facility, including members of La Resistencia, Tsuru for Solidarity, and the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites. Members of Tsuru for Solidarity, a direct action group of Japanese Americans, performed ceremonial drumming during the event.
Victor Fonseca, a Venezuelan immigrant who has been detained at the NWDC for over two years, said that he and other detainees could hear the drumming from inside the facility. “God bless you guys for being here,” Fonseca said. “We pray for all in here and also you guys out there.”
Cecilia Urbina, a member of La Resistencia, joined the group about a month ago when her husband was first detained at the NWDC. “I’m glad to come out and support my husband and to support other people that are going through the same thing,” Urbina said. “Because it is not easy for families to be separated. Even more because my baby is seeing his father only through video or phone calls sometimes.”
Protestors gathered to listen to speakers, including some who had formerly been incarcerated at the facility who spoke about conditions there.
The NWDC has been the site of many protests and organized resistance since it opened in 2005. La Resistencia, formerly known as Northwest Detention Center Resistance, has spearheaded many of those demonstrations and events. While the detention facility was recently slated for closure, the current number of rising covid-19 cases inside the facility has kept local activists engaged in pressure campaigns against its administration.
One protestor, who was introduced only as Maria, explained that her son is detained at NWDC and expressed disbelief that the facility remains open despite the risks during COVID-19 pandemic. “What do they want? To take everyone out of there in a coffin?” she asked. “Why have they not closed this place down? I do not want to wait until 2025 for them to close this place, it should shut down now. Because people in there could lose their lives. What will happen to all the mothers, wives, and kids, waiting for their sons and husbands to come home?”
The national #ShutEmDown2021 demonstrations are one part of a longer trajectory of organizing for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, who in 2018 helped coordinate a national strike of prisoners. In an August 12, 2021 press release, the group announced a call for inside prison demonstrations in 2022. “Jailhouse Lawyers Speak members around the nation are making a direct appeal for people locked up to disrupt the normal prison operations of america” the release said.
Maru Villalpando, the main organizer of La Resistencia, expressed the group’s solidarity with anti-prison organizing going on around the country. “We’re joining this because we agree that all prisons and jails and detention centers should be shut down,” she said.
At Saturday’s demonstration, Stan Shikuma, an organizer with Tsuru for Solidarity, drew connections between the internment camps that held Japanese-Americans during World War Two and the immigrant detention centers of today. “It’s so reminiscent of how we were treated, the separation of families, kids in detention, mass incarceration just because of who we were,” Shikuma said. “We feel like we need to be what we wish we had, so it’s kind of like a moral obligation.”
Alexa Villatoro is a writer from Seattle, Washington. Follow her on Twitter: @aalexavillatoro