Students combating the prison industrial complex

Portland State’s Pan American Solidarity Organization travelled to Tacoma, Washington—the group’s first trip out-of-state—to attend a demonstration at the Northwest Detention Center.  

Portland State’s Pan American Solidarity Organization travelled to Tacoma, Washington—the group’s first trip out-of-state—to attend a demonstration at the Northwest Detention Center.   
On February 13, PASO and other organizations joined the Tacoma-based OneAmerica, which has launched a national campaign to work toward comprehensive immigration reform, and empower local immigrant communities to advocate for their rights. According to its mission statement, PASO is a PSU student group organized to promote social justice, solidarity and sustainability throughout the Americas.

“PASO is working most closely with the Latin American Solidarity Organization from Evergreen to coordinate campaigns against the NWDC and plan for a follow-up rally and march in Tacoma in the next few months,” co-founder of PASO Stephanie Rio Collier explained in an e-mail.

The NWDC is a privately-run detention facility under the ownership of GEO Group, Inc., which describes itself as “a world leader in providing private corrections and detention management, health and mental health services to federal, state and local government agencies.”

Protestors demonstrated outside of the facility as a part of a series of events which has groups present at the NWDC at least once a month, providing food, drink and resources to family members visiting those who are detained, according to Alex Maymi, co-coordinator of PASO.

The groups also participated in a march through downtown Tacoma to try to garner public awareness and support for their efforts to call attention to the NWDC and its practices.

Corporations like GEO Group turn a profit by contracting with local and state governments to build and maintain detention centers all over the U.S.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Web site, the NWDC is not listed as being monitored by the BOP. The site only lists two facilities in Washington State: The Federal Detention Center at SeaTac, and Community Corrections in Seattle.

In July 2008, Seattle University’s School of Law International Human Rights Clinic, in collaboration with OneAmerica, released a report titled “Voices from Detention: A Report on Human Rights Violations at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.”

This report explains that “In 2001, under pressure from outside organizations, ICE developed new National Detention Standards that would apply to all privately run detention centers nationwide. However, the National Detention Standards are not legally binding, and therefore are unenforceable.”

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement refers to NWDC as a facility which “temporarily houses individuals who are waiting for their immigration status to be determined or who are awaiting repatriation.”

Collier, however, sees the NWDC in a drastically different light.

The NWDC “relies on racial and ethnic profiling to detain immigrants and refugees for profit, often for indefinite amounts of time,” Collier said in an e-mail. “It is a modern day overcrowded internment camp guilty of violations of human and constitutional rights according to a recent detailed report by OneAmerica and the [Seattle University] School of Law.”

Part of the problem with the current approach to immigration law enforcement, according to the report and echoed by Maymi and Collier, is that immigrants are treated as criminals.

“They are making money off of splitting families apart and sending this message that immigrants are criminals, and they’re treating them like criminals when all they are doing is seeking a livelihood,” Maymi said. “It’s a lack of recognition for the reason people immigrate, a real lack of compassion and understanding for immigrants, and [GEO Group, Inc.] is just kind of perpetuating and institutionalizing that mindset.”

In fact, in 2002 Congress passed the Homeland Security Act—according to the detention report—which officially put immigration security under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, a move that gave the DHS control over U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Moves such as this “deter people from going to the local police with domestic violence complaints or employer abuse complaints,” Maymi said. “The police should be in our communities to protect all of us, not just some of us.”

For this reason, PASO believes it is important to show solidarity with groups like LASO at Evergreen and OneAmerica, who are trying to illuminate the so-called “prison industrial complex.”

The PASO manifesto states, “We believe in non-authoritarian, non hierarchical and non patriarchal mutual aid relationships and the solidarity with Latin American grassroots movements in resistance and struggle, which is anti-capitalist and against any kind of imperialism or neo-colonialism.”

Collier said, “Without a citizen-led social movement to denounce this system of oppression, NWDC and all ICE detention facilities will continue to grow with the expanding federal program ‘Secure Communities,’ which connects ICE to local law enforcement and expedites the identification of what they refer to as ‘criminal aliens.’  This program is rife with injustice and inhumanity.”

PASO is seeking new members for spring term and will be hosting a variety of events that all are welcome to attend. To get involved, contact PASO at [email protected]