Wash. Immigration Lockups Among Worst For Long Holds

Jun 4, 2013

If you end up in an immigration detention center here in Washington state, you could face a long stay. And ironically, if you’re a legal resident the lockup will likely be even longer. Newly released federal statistics show Washington ranks toward the bottom of the list for quick turnover in detention.

The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma
Credit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website

Forty-eight days. That’s the average time immigrants are held in detention in Washington state. And out of 30 states with the most detainees, Washington ranks number 20 – among the worst – for long detention times.

That’s according to a new report from researchers at Syracuse University. The findings are based on two months of federal immigration data from 2012.

Betsy Tao is an attorney with the Northwest Immigration Rights Project. She represents immigrants held in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. She says legal immigrants tend to face holds months or years longer than average, because they’re willing to stay and fight their cases.

“It’s because their case is strong and they have a legitimate reason to not to want to give up," Tao says. "It is sort of perverse that those are the ones that end up spending the most time in detention, which sounds very punitive.”

Tao suggests ankle brackets or supervised release would be a better option for people with a strong case who don’t pose a safety risk.

In the two months covered in the report, the feds detained 18 people in Washington who turned out to have a legal right to be in the U.S. That typically includes people who are eligible for asylum, residency or a green card.

Even when a detainee is cleared and free to go, Tao points to another snag: the government provides no resources to help them re-integrate back into the community.

“Locally in Tacoma it’s only volunteers and people who are interested in providing that social service," Tao says. "But it’s definitely a big problem, a big gap."

On an average day, about 1,300 people are held in detention at the Tacoma facility. 

Copyright 2013 KUOW