Tacoma ICE Facility Reports at Least 6 Suicide Attempts by Migrants

The ICE facility in Tacoma has seen an increase in suicide attempts by migrants

ICE Detention CenterICE Detention Center

A detainee sits on the floor under a blanket in a locked intake holding area during a media tour of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Tacoma, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This year has already been challenging for immigrants throughout the U.S. facing struggles from being undocumented to low wages to constant exposure to dangerous situations. Recently, in Baltimore, Maryland, six immigrant construction workers from Latin America died in the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in March. Now, in Tacoma, Washington, at least six migrants in a privately-owned ICE detention center have attempted suicide since the beginning of the year, according to audio and written transcripts of several calls that were made to 911. Most of the people who attempted to end their lives did so through hanging and asphyxiation. The names of the migrants have not been released to the public but so far, we know that they came from all over the world. The attempts are happening in the wake of the death of Charles Leo Daniel, a migrant from Trinidad and Tobago, who died in the facility on March 7 after being in solitary confinement for four years. Neither ICE nor the local medical examiner’s office have released a cause of death, according to The Seattle Times.

“We are in this midst of horrible, horrible situations in detention centers, at the border, in the countries where people need to flee, because it’s working for corporations and for governments,” Maru Mora Villalpando, an organizer from the group La Resistencia who’s working to shut the facility down, told Democracy Now. “We are tired [of] being the political pawns. And that’s why we’re not waiting for the government to solve this. We have to save ourselves.”

Located in Tacoma, the Northwest ICE Processing Center was opened in 2004 and is currently owned and operated by the GEO Group, an American corporation that invests in prisons, mental health facilities, and immigration processing centers. The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma holds 1,575 migrants, more than any other immigration prison in the country. The University of Washington Center for Human Rights found that from January to March, six to seven 911 calls were made reporting that several migrants, one as young as twenty, had tried to attempt suicide through hanging, asphyxiation, and jumping eight feet off the building. In one specific instance on March 13, the police were called, only for facility staff to inform them the incident was being handled internally as a medical emergency and wouldn’t require police interference.

ICE has refused to comment on the situation but researchers are theorizing that it could have something to do with an excessive use of solitary confinement and neglect, which worsens mental health, as well as poor food, hygiene, and healthcare resources.

“We’ve seen an increase of people trying to attempt suicide telling us ‘I’d rather die than continue being detained in here,” Villalpando told Washington State Standard. “That’s a quote. I’m not making this up. We have heard people telling us that again and again.”

Several U.S. senators, including Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, have sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security demanding more information and calling for an investigation. In response, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he’d be “pleased to consider that” and that the department has a new leader of the Office of the Detention Ombudsman who can conduct the review.

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