After years of complaints and lawsuits over its treatment of immigrant detainees, the federal government invited reporters to take an “inside look” Tuesday at its detention center in Tacoma, Wa., recently renamed the Northwest ICE Processing Center, the Seattle Times reports. Nathalie Asher, who arrived in August to head enforcement for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Northwest, said she initiated the first-of-its-kind tour to dispel myths and “bad information” that she said had created a hostile environment for the facility’s officers, some of whom have received threatening phone calls at home.
In July, police killed a onetime protester who returned to the detention center and threw incendiary devices. “Certainly, we are not a popular entity in the area,” she said. The tour showed off bright, white-walled hallways painted by detainees with murals, a medical center with an X-ray and examination rooms, and a pod where detainees sat on bunk beds or talked to each other at metal tables. Outside the center, activist Maru Mora-Villalpando declared the tour a whitewash and said just the day before, she heard from detainees that they had found live maggots in food. The privately run center is owned by the GEO Group and holds up to 1,575 immigrants facing deportation proceedings. Detainees have held hunger strikes to protest what they say is inadequate food and $1-a-day wages for what GEO calls its “voluntary work program.” Some hunger strikers have said they were put into solitary confinement and in one case beaten. Asher maintained that medical and mental health care was a top priority, leading the facility to employ doctors, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists and social workers. Referring to detainees, she added, “many of these people are coming from Third World countries and have frankly never seen a doctor in their lives.”