“Center of Detention” reflects reporting conducted in parts of 2010, 2011 and 2012 during a first-of-its kind reporting partnership for The News Tribune with an independent journalism nonprofit.
TNT reporter Lewis Kamb teamed with reporter Carol Smith of Seattle-based InvestigateWest, to interview more than 75 people, attend various hearings and review more than 20,000 pages of records. TNT photographer Dean Koepfler chronicled some of the interviews and other events to capture the special report’s visual elements.
Sources for the stories included various undocumented immigrants and their family members; private and government attorneys; city and county police officials; city fire officials; county jail officials; municipal bond experts; various city, county, state and federal government officials; academics and activists.
The reporters conducted interviews of some immigrants while they were in local or federal custody. When needed, reporters used the services of a volunteer Spanish-language interpreter.
Records obtained and reviewed include paper documents, audio files and video records. Such records, if not otherwise publicly available, were obtained directly from private individuals or in response to state and federal public records requests.
Primary records relied upon include local and state police reports; local, state and federal court records and opinions; city zoning, building and land use records; city council meeting minutes; city council voting records; county property records, city business and sales tax records; state and federal environmental review records; federal bidding and contract records; federal immigration alien files and reports; federal immigration and detention statistics; state bond transaction records; local, state and federal legislation and related records; state and federal corporation statements, filings and reports; private credit reports; state-aided financing applications; academic studies on immigration and detention; federal detention center audit reports; emails, letters and other correspondence, primarily among government officials; and various other records.
Some of the stories also draw upon archival information from past news stories in The News Tribune.
Elements of conversation directly quoted in any story are taken from interviews, records or statements made during public hearings.
Instances in which dialogue was recreated are based on recollections of individual immigrants directly involved in the events depicted, and are not labeled within quotation marks. To the extent possible, any sections that depict recreated events were cross-referenced with recollections from witnesses, academic references and/or public records.
The News Tribune and InvestigateWest requested access to the Northwest Detention Center from the federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Officials for ICE and The GEO Group, the center’s owner and operator, gave both reporters and the photographer a tour of the facility in June 2011, but restricted reporters from speaking to detainees and did not allow Koepfler to take photographs that could identify detainees.
ICE also gave Koepfler additional access in August 2012 to witness detainees being boarded onto buses bound to Boeing Field for a deportation flight. It allowed Smith and Koepfler to interview two detainees while in custody after Smith obtained the detainees’ permission.
The federal agency and corporation declined several other requests, including seeking to tour the detention center a second time; attending a detainee’s in-custody visitations with family members; traveling on a deportation flight to Mexico; and conducting interviews with individual ICE agents and the detention center’s GEO-employed warden.
Kamb’s repeated efforts to attend a removal flight occupied by deportees from the Northwest bound for Mexico also was denied, despite several months of discussions. ICE officials in Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., provided varying explanations for the denial.
Most recently, ICE officials said the Obama administration had suspended indefinitely media access to such flights.
Most of ICE’s for-the-record responses included in the special report required reporters to first submit questions in writing. ICE attorneys in Washington, D.C., reviewed the questions and took more than a month before providing responses to some questions. Responses generally were provided in writing via email, by a spokesman based in ICE’s Seattle Field Office. Not all questions were answered.
The GEO Group, after initially declining several requests for interviews, submitted a statement in writing after Kamb emailed a local attorney for the company earlier this month with a list of
specific questions to be raised in the stories. GEO’s statement did not specifically address any of the questions, but provided a general response about the detention center’s operations.
Two other federal agencies – the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Executive Office of Immigration Review – more readily provided information upon request. At times, both agencies also required reporters to submit formal records requests or written questions in response to specific information requests.