Center of Detention

'Center of Detention' now available for Kindle

Big (for us) news. We've published our first Kindle book — Center of Detention, by Carol Smith and The News Tribune's Lewis Kamb.

The book is a collection of the reporting that Carol and Lewis did for a series of stories that ran in The News Tribune in September.

Here's something very nice that was said about it in Bender's Immigration Bulletin:

"This extraordinary in-depth investigation reveals the hard truths about the Northwest Detention Center."

- Daniel M. Kowalski, Editor-in-Chief

You can download Center of Detention from Amazon to read on your Kindle, or on a Kindle app for your phone or computer.

If you read it and like it, we'd surely appreciate you leaving a nice review over on Amazon so that other readers who stumble upon the book page have a reason to click Buy. Thanks!

Byline: 

Path to permanent residency opens for immigrant profiled in 'Center of Detention'

A 39-year-old Mexican national who has lived illegally in Pierce County for more than half of his life will be able to stay in the United States through the end of next year – and possibly longer.

Oscar Campos Estrada's chances for staying in this country permanently took a major step forward when a federal immigration judge recently set his next court date for December 2013.

“He’s a long way from being deported,” Amy Kratz, a Seattle-based immigration lawyer, said Friday of Oscar’s case.

That’s because come May 7 – more than seven months before Oscar’s next court date – his oldest daughter, America, will turn 21. Once she does, she’s eligible as a U.S. citizen to file a green card eligibility petition on behalf of her father.

Unlike other family-based permanent residency petitions that can take years to process, those filed on behalf of the parents of U.S. children 21 and older are considered immediately. In the long line of illegal immigrants seeking green cards, parents of Americans have priority to adjust their immigration status.

Byline: 

Five to Read on Immigration

We're not the only ones looking closely at U.S. immigration policy and the many facilities around the country that process deportations. Here are five of the most incisive pieces we've read recently:

Byline: 

Detention center houses few serious criminals

Most illegal immigrants who end up behind the Northwest Detention Center’s razor wire are, at worst, petty criminals. Their stays at the lockup are but brief stops on the way out of the country.

On a walk-through last year of the low-slung complex on Tacoma’s Tideflats, federal immigration officials and a privately-employed warden explained how the hundreds of men and women dressed in color-coded uniforms wound up here.

About 1,000 of the roughly 1,300 adult detainees within its walls wear blue, they said, a classification that means they have little or no criminal history. Those in blue who do have rap sheets mostly committed minor offenses – traffic offenses and other misdemeanors that likely sent them to one of the hundreds of local jails in Washington, Oregon or Alaska where immigration officials later encountered them.

Another 200 immigrants, wearing orange, have committed more serious, “mid-level” crimes, such as drug-related offenses.

The rest of the population – a mostly unseen group of about 100 segregated detainees dressed in red – are criminals with serious convictions for sex offenses, assault, even homicide.

About 75 female detainees — all of whom don yellow uniforms, but wear colored wrist-bands that correspond with security classifications — are separately housed in living pods away from the men.

Detainees come from more than 70 nations, with Mexico by far the most common country of citizenship. Most wind up in Tacoma from three Northwest states served by the facility, but at least 165 detainees held at the Northwest Detention Center as of July were transferred from other “areas of responsibility.” They included 100 detainees from the San Antonio area, 33 from three different areas in California, 30 from the Phoenix area and one each from the Salt Lake City and New Orleans areas.

A rare look inside Tacoma's Northwest Detention Center

Illegal immigrants wait to board a bus on Aug. 1 at the Northwest Detention Center
en route to Boeing Field for a deportation flight to Mexico.
Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune

The building could be any other industrial warehouse on Tacoma’s Tideflats, if it weren’t for the razor wire surrounding it.

The man could be any other middle-aged father living in Pierce County, if he weren’t facing deportation.

An immigration lockup. An illegal immigrant. Two lives intertwined by a common, tangled thread: U.S. immigration policy.

The immigrant is Oscar Campos Estrada, a 39-year-old father of five who has lived in Pierce County for more than half of his life. As a Mexican, a male and a minor offender, he represents the typical detainee who passes through the facility’s reinforced doors.

Over the past year, he and his family have navigated a maze of court hearings, administrative procedures and in-custody visitations under a cloud of potential deportation.

Oscar faces removal after building a life here, even though brushes with federal immigration authorities could have sent him back to his country some 20 years ago.

The building is the Northwest Detention Center, an institution described in the parlance of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as a “COCO” – a contractor-owned/contractor operated facility.

Over the past eight years, the low-slung complex run by a global corrections empire has steadily expanded next to a toxic sludge field near Commencement Bay. It has grown into a 1,575-bed facility, making it one of the largest immigration detention centers in the United States.

On any given day, 30,000 motorists on a state highway less than a quarter mile away drive past its sprawling gray campus, many unaware of its existence or back-story.

Byline: 

'I can't even talk about it'

Leticia Jimenez-Diaz, 41, has two children who are U.S. citizens. But she herself is not. That fact divides her family in a way that could soon rip it apart.

Slumped at a table in a bare-walled meeting room at the Northwest Detention Center, she started to cry when a visitor asked about her children, then ages 9 and 16. She hadn’t seen them in a month and a half, ever since she was taken to the detention center for being in violation of a long-ago deportation order.

Fearful of being deported and possibly leaving her U.S.-born children behind with relatives, Leticia Jimenez-Diaz, breaks down in tears during a interview at the Northwest Detention Center. Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune

It’s an order she says she did not even know about.

In 1993, immigration officers swept through the plant nursery where she was working at the time. As a result, she was supposed to appear before an immigration judge.

But she says she never got the notice to appear.

“I think that they sent the notice to the wrong place,” she said. “I never received it.”

Her attorney, Carol Edward of Carol L. Edward & Associates, confirmed records show Jimenez-Diaz missed the date of that hearing, and in her absence, an immigration judge ordered her deported to Mexico in 1994.

Unaware of that development, however, Jimenez-Diaz continued raising her young sons in Mt. Vernon. She volunteered at their schools. Helped them play soccer. She worked in the flower bulb business and took classes at Skagit Valley College to learn English.

Byline: 

Is There a Right to Counsel? Class Action Suit Represents Detainees with Mental Disabilities

Detainees pass the time in one of the pods of the Northwest Detention Center's 1575-bed facility as they wait for a decision on their cases.
Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune

The legal decisions facing detained immigrants trying to represent themselves in immigration court are intimidating enough. For those with mental disabilities, they can be incomprehensible.

But a recent federal court decision could lead to a legal precedent that would give immigrants with mental impairments the right to a court-appointed attorney.

Currently, immigrants have no right to court-appointed legal representation for immigration proceedings.

“People with severe mental disabilities who are locked up in immigration detention are ground through this system without even understanding what is happening to them,” said Matt Adams, legal director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. NWIRP has taken up the cause on behalf of a severely schizophrenic man from the Ukraine, who was held at the Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats for more than two years – from April 15, 2010, until June 22, 2012.

This is in stark contrast to the American criminal justice system, which gives defendants the right to court-appointed counsel, and also has a formal system for determining whether a defendant is mentally competent to understand charges and stand trial.

Byline: