TACOMA, WA (KPTV) - In a rare move, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement allowed several media outlets to tour the Northwest Regional Processing Center in Tacoma on Tuesday.
Nathalie Asher, Director of ICE's Seattle field office, said she decided to allow access to the center to clear up rumors of deplorable conditions and mistreatment of detainees that are unfounded.
"This is a very safe and very humane operation," said Asher.
Still, the experience of being held at the facility weighed heavily on Francisco Rodriguez, a Portland DACA recipient who was detained and taken to the Tacoma facility in 2017.
"I was scared. Also afraid of what was going to happen after that," said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez had community support and an attorney and was released on bond, but he won't know whether he'll be allowed to stay in the country until his court hearing in 2021.
"My level of confidence really isn't that high. Just because the laws are changing every day when it comes to immigration," said Rodriguez.
After his detention, Rodriguez and Cam Coval co-founded "Pueblo Unido," a group that connects people being held in Tacoma with legal services.
"We don't have to incarcerate people to this extent," said Coval. "There are ways people can pursue their immigration claim here in the United States."
According to researchers at Syracuse University who track federal immigration actions, only 10% of the court filings seeking removal in Tacoma cited criminal activity.
Asher, though, defends her agency and her agents' activities.
"We are all carrying out the laws as they are on the books," said Asher. "For those who complain that our officers are in the streets, I didn’t come up with that. That’s a consequence of the local policies and decisions that were made by no longer cooperating with us."
Asher said the average stay at the processing center right now is 73 days, and that the people housed there come from 65 different countries.
Currently, there are just over 1,300 people detained at the facility, with the majority of those (65%) taken into custody at the southwestern border.
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