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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.

Immigrant Advocates Criticize Bed Quotas at Detention Centers

A file picture from Oct. 17, 2008, shows the 'B' cell and bunk unit of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
A file picture from Oct. 17, 2008, shows the "B" cell and bunk unit of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash.

Guaranteed payments to contractors at federal detention centers have helped to create a quota system for immigration enforcement, according to a report released Thursday by advocates for detainees.

The report, “Banking on Detention,” spotlights federal contracts at detention centers around the country, including in Tacoma.

The report starts off with a jarring overview.

“Over the last two decades, the detention system in the United States has increased dramatically," said Silky Shah, with the advocacy group Detention Watch Network, which published the report along with The Center for Constitutional Rights. "And now the U.S. has the largest immigrant detention system in the world.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Ramon Mendoza-Pascual helped lead a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in 2014.", "fid": "118317", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201506/P1030922.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Liz Jones/KUOW"}]]The report is based on public records requests to federal agencies. It offers a broad look at how the feds work with private contractors at immigration lockups and guarantee payment for bed spaces – even if they’re not filled.

The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma is one such facility, with space for nearly 1,600 detainees. Current contract documents show the feds would guarantee payment for half those beds every day.

Attorney Ghita Schwarz says quotas like that create incentive to keep these pre-paid beds filled, and transfer detainees to those locations.

"When you are arrested in Houston after being detained in New York, you lose access to friends, family, community and resources," Schwarz said. "It’s harder to hire an attorney, raise money for bond or otherwise fight your detention and deportation.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori K. Haley explains the agency's capacity of 34,000 daily detention beds is mandated by Congress.  

"In order to meet that mandate and use our limited resources in the most efficient way, we have developed agreements with certain facilities to make available certain numbers of beds to ICE at all times," Haley said in a written statement. "The availability of those beds in no way impacts ICE’s enforcement priorities or actions." 

At a recent congressional hearing, the ICE Director Sarah Saldaña, also defended her agency’s use of detention beds.

“The sole purpose and goal is not to fill a bed; it’s to fill it in the right way," Saldaña said.

The advocates' report calls on ICE to remove the bed quotas. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington has also introduced a bill that calls for more oversight of detention facilities.


Year started with KUOW: 2006