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Tacoma Immigration Detention Center Again Under Scrutiny

Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
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Outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

The immigration detention center in Tacoma has been hit this week by new allegations of abuse by guards.

An incident in mid-April set off this recent flurry of complaints against the Northwest Detention Center. Several detainees say they witnessed guards allegedly assault an elderly man from Honduras.

One witness, Jose Ulises, posted a video statement on Facebook.

“Some days ago, a fellow detainee was in a brutal altercation with officials,” Ulises said. “After that, we decided to go public because we want people know what’s happening.”

Attorneys and advocates for the detainees identify the Honduran man as Alfredo Rodriguez. They claim three guards bashed Rodriquez’s head into the floor, pulled his hair and left him bleeding.

A written statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the center, called the allegations of excessive force unfounded. Spokesman Andrew Muñoz said in the statement that ICE reviewed the guards’ use of force and found it appropriate. He also said medical staff examined the detainee and found one superficial scratch and no apparent injuries.

At least a dozen detainees have filed complaints with ICE, Tacoma police and GEO Group, the private contractor that runs the center.

In the Facebook video, Ulises said it’s tough for detainees to speak out. And many incidents like this happen in silence.

“People are afraid to complain,” he said.  “Because these same officials tell them that if they complain, they’ll be deported.”

Advocates report the Honduran man has been deported.

ICE said the complaints are under review.

Last year, hundreds of detainees went on a hunger strike to call for better conditions. They complained of inedible food and harsh treatment by the guards. The move sparked similar strikes elsewhere. The organizer of the protest was deported to Mexico in February.

Year started with KUOW: 2006