On December 12th, activist groups gathered for a peace vigil to demand immediate immigration reform in front of the GEO Group-owned Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. The peaceful protest aimed to shed light on the currently broken immigration system and called on Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to fix it by providing more paths to citizenship and ending deportations and the continued painful separation of families.
The Northwest facility is owned and run by GEO Group and houses immigrants facing deportation from in and around the northwest as well as places as far away as Texas. Each day, GEO Group makes a profit based on the number of detainees held there each day; the crowded facility boasts 1,575 beds
As upwards of 40 protesters huddled outside the cold prison gates, activists and onlookers were reminded of the motives behind for-profit businesses whose sole interests lie in the acquisition of assets over implementation of true justice. Pastor Diakonda Gurning reminded the crowd, “This building we are standing in front of: This is a corporation. It is not run by the government, but by a private industry. An industry that profits off of human imprisonment and misery. An industry that tears our families apart. An industry that labels human beings as “illegal.”
Many individuals shared their personal stories, in both Spanish and English, of living in the U.S. as immigrants and having personal ties to family member and friends who have faced deportation. Powerful voices chimed in to share what they have done for immigration reform: one man went to law school to fight for immigrant rights; Adelaida Mendoza traveled cross-country to Washington D.C to deliver a Thanksgiving meal grown by immigrant farmworkers hands. The true dedication and effort put into growing, preparing and delivering the meal symbolized immigrants hard work providing food for the nation, highlighted their integration into American society and sent an urgent message to Obama to do something to stop the separation of families and loved ones during this holiday season.
The vigil was organized by the United Farm Workers (UFW) and UFW Foundation. Immigrant rights groups from Washington and Oregon were present, including the United Farm Workers, Washington New Sanctuary, One America, Causa, Faith groups from Bend, SEIU, and Enlace’s Private Prison Divestment Campaign.
The 12th of December holds special significance to observers of Día de la virgen de Guadalupe. The vigil called attention to the separation of families. We hope that those detained behind GEO’s walls were able to hear our chants, stories, and prayers, to know that they were not forgotten on what should have been a day of celebration for all.