The American Creed: Immigration and Detention in Tacoma
Amanda Díaz is a senior who created her own major between the disciplines of Politics and Government, Latino/a Studies, and Sociology/Anthropology. This American Border Studies major explores the importance of race/ethnic politics, narratives, knowledge/power, and their relationship to questions of law, immigration, and national politics in the Americas. She plans on attending law school after she graduates from the University of Puget Sound to pursue a career in immigration law. She is currently the student body president of the Association of Students of the University of Puget Sound and works at the Center for Writing Learning and Teaching as a Writing Advisor. As a first-year, she founded a club on campus called Advocates for Detained Voices that works with local grassroots organizations that advocate for families affected by the Northwest Detention Immigration Center.
This project, titled “The American Creed: Immigration and Detention in Tacoma,” is a digital oral history project that looks at the lived experience of community members impacted by the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) and the broader immigration enforcement apparatus of the United States. Housed online, the website contains oral history interviews with former detainees, family members of detainees, and a range of activists in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellingham who work toward gaining justice for these families. In essence, the goal of this research project was to provide a snapshot of the NWDC from a variety of perspectives.
The United States holds one of the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, detaining approximately 400,000 people per year. Persons, including legal permanent residents with longstanding family and community ties, asylum-seekers, and victims of human trafficking, are detained for weeks, months, and sometimes years. The Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, is a symbol of this larger national system of immigration detention. The NWDC was founded in 2004 and is privately owned by GEO Group, one of the largest private prison corporations in the United States. There are roughly 1,600 people detained at a time and the facility is currently at maximum capacity. Since these detention centers are privately owned, these corporations work their prisons like hotels, seeking out people to fill the beds inside the detention center. As a result, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) patrol communities, looking for people to detain, often for broken tail lights, and racially profiling undocumented immigrants. Silky Shah, a legal advocate in the Seattle area that was interviewed for the project, stated that “the immigration is run as a police force, as an enforcement operation. It is not run as a system to support in getting status.”
The series is housed on a digital platform through the University of Southern California’s Scalar, which is currently available to the public to listen and interact with these interviews. The audio format of these interviews is valuable because the general public who is not normally exposed to these narratives are able to hear the inflection, emotion, and lived experience of the interviewees that illuminate the violence, trauma, and fear most of them face in their daily life. These emotional details, which are crucial to understanding the experiences inside the NWDC, would have been lost if these interviews were transcribed and interpreted through writing. Having this project on a digital platform also allows for a wider, more diverse audience to access these histories. Through this oral history methodology, individuals are able to gain knowledge about the immigrant experience, and sharpen their ability to interpret the immigrant experience from a variety of perspectives. The project is ongoing and will soon solicit additional interviews and add features to the website.