Opinion piece in Tacoma News Tribune on Northwest ICE Processing Center

Click HERE to read this opinion piece on the TNT website

The recent standoff between Washington state and GEO Group, the private company operating the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, is more than just a local dispute. It shines a spotlight on a deeply troubling national issue: the lack of transparency and accountability in immigration detention centers.

This isn’t just about one facility; it’s about ensuring basic human rights are upheld, regardless of immigration status.

GEO Group claims federal preemption to deny access to state inspectors, leaving hundreds of detainees in a frightening and confusing situation — their voices unheard, their well-being unchecked. This argument rings hollow when considering the company’s own website lists a Tacoma, Washington address. Such blatant disregard for accountability raises serious concerns about their commitment to humane treatment.

Unfortunately, this lack of transparency and deliberate effort to operate with impunity are not isolated incidents. The facility has a long history of complaints, including disturbing reports of staff abuse, chemical attacks and poor conditions. Testimony during the hearing for HB 1470 painted a grim picture, further amplified by hunger strikes undertaken by desperate detainees protesting their plight. GEO Group’s practices rightfully raise critical questions for state investigators about the use of force and treatment of individuals seeking asylum or awaiting immigration hearings. Denying access to independent inspectors and disregarding state laws aimed at ensuring safety and basic standards are clear violations of human rights.

The fundamental right to fair treatment and basic human dignity should never be contingent on immigration status. Washington state recognizes this, taking a stand for these fundamental rights.

In 2021, legislation was passed to prohibit private detention facilities within the state. Last year, HB 1470, regulating conditions in existing facilities, was enacted. While GEO Group fights these policies in court, they cannot erase the clear message: profit should never come before human dignity and basic rights. The path ahead is clear. Until the day GEO Group closes its doors, Washington will continue to demand immediate and unfettered access for independent inspectors and state officials. I have hope that the dedicated public servants at Washington State’s Department of Health and its Department of Labor and Industries will continue to establish clear and enforceable accountability mechanisms, with swift and appropriate consequences for violations.

Our fight extends beyond Tacoma. I urge other states to follow Washington’s lead and enact similar legislation to end the system of private detention facilities. The fight for transparency and accountability in Tacoma’s detention center is a fight for human rights everywhere. It’s time to stand with Washington, amplify the voices of the unheard, and build a more just and humane immigration system that upholds human dignity for all.



Since 2014, Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self has represented the 21st legislative district, including the cities of Edmonds and Mukilteo. She serves as Majority Caucus chair for the House Democratic Caucus and chairs the Washington State Latino Democratic Caucus. Her committee service includes the Human Services, Youth & Early Learning; Education; Labor and Workplace Standards; and Rules Committees.