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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Complaints From Detained Immigrants Shock Federal Commission

A dozen protesters block the entrance to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in February 2014. Deportations from the Northwest have declined by nearly half, but now a larger proportion of deportees have a clean record.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
A dozen protesters block the entrance to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in February 2014. "I'm shocked to hear ... the kinds of abuse, sexual and otherwise that seems to be occurring," said Martin Castro of the federal civil rights commission.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing on Friday about concerns at immigration detention centers. That includes the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, one of the largest in the country.


During the all-day hearing in Washington D.C., the commissioners questioned federal officials, contractors and immigrant rights groups about how detainees are treated. Early on in the testimony, Commission Chair Martin Castro took a moment to underscore his concern.

Castro: "I’m shocked to hear the consistency among different facilities – the kind of abuse, sexual and otherwise that seems to be occurring. There’s clearly a culture of this going on."

The hearing looked at the detention system as a whole, and at complaints with specific locations.

The GEO Group is a private, for-profit contractor that runs the Tacoma facility and many others. A representative was initially slated to be at the hearing, but Castro noted their absence.

Castro: “They refused to be here. I’m going to consider whether I ask my colleagues to reopen this hearing at some point so I have to subpoena them to come in."

Last year, hundreds of detainees in Tacoma went on a hunger strike to protest conditions and alleged mistreatment. They complained of inedible food and harsh treatment by the guards. Immigration officials consistently say detention centers follow federal standards. And several layers of oversight are in place.

The commission is expected to report to the president and Congress about its recommendations for changes.

Year started with KUOW: 2006