We believe that people should not be incarcerated in immigration detention centers, and that all people are entitled to competent and meaningful legal representation. We take on a variety of cases, representing people who are recent arrivals to the United States as well as those who have been in the country for many years. Our clients include survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, and torture, as well as people who have been convicted of crimes. We also take cases that are challenging in order to make sure we are making a meaningful impact for our clients and their families.
What is Immigration Detention?
Immigration detention is the government's practice of incarcerating immigrants as they go through deportation proceedings to determine if they will be deported or allowed to remain in the United States. The U.S. has the largest immigrant detention infrastructure in the world. Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE) is the federal agency that runs the immigration detention system. However, 62% of immigration detention facilities are subcontracted to private prison companies. While no other law enforcement agency operates on a quota system, the immigration detention system operates under a Congressionally mandated quota which requires ICE to fill at least 34,000 detention beds at any given time. The quotas were developed through lobbying as a way for the private prison industry to protect their bottom line and also create revenue for county budgets. Immigration detention costs the United States over two billion dollars each year.
The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma is the fourth largest immigration detention center in the country. It is privately run by the GEO Corporation and has the capacity to detain up to 1,575 people. The number of community members actually processed through the facility during a given year has exceeded 10,000 in recent years.
Four Ways NWIRP Helps People in Immigration Detention
Legal Orientation Presentations: To reach as many people as possible, NWIRP provides legal orientation presentations in which we give legal presentations, consultations, and advice to over 3,000 people each year. This program also gives us the opportunity to make a difference in the organizational culture of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). The officers and guards see us at the facility every day and know we are not afraid to take legal action if we find that detained individuals have been mistreated. Immigration judges know that unrepresented individuals in their courtroom can talk to NWIRP about an incorrect decision or misconduct. Even though our capacity is limited and we cannot help everyone who is detained, our presence and expertise serves as a deterrent to conduct that might otherwise not be challenged.
Direct Representation: NWIRP directly represents approximately 150 immigrants detained at the NWDC every year.
Referrals to Volunteer Attorneys: NWIRP refers approximately 40 cases of immigrants who are detained at the NWIRP to private attorneys who volunteer their time to provide free legal representation on behalf of our organization every year.
Brief Services and Legal Advice: Historically, NWIRP has provided more limited assistance to detainees each year in cases where we are unable to fully represent them or find them a volunteer attorney in order to ensure they have their best chance at presenting their cases pro se (on their own). However, in April of 2017 Jeff Session's Department of Justice sent us a "cease and desist" letter trying to stop us from providing this type of legal assistance. In response, we filed legislation challenging the DOJ's letter which is currently being litigated in federal district court. You can read about our ongoing fight here.
Franselia grew up in a small town in El Salvador. Shortly after graduating from high school, her boyfriend was murdered by a well-known gang. After bravely reporting the murder to the police, Franselia began to be threatened by the gang. She made the long journey to the United States to seek safety. At the border, she was immediately detained and sent to the Northwest Detention Center. Shortly afterwards, she met Meghan, one of our attorneys, who took her case. After seven months in detention, Franselia won her asylum case. She has now been reunited with her family in the United States and is safe from harm.