Immigrant Advocates Call For ICE To Again Allow Visitors In Detention Centers

File photo. The Northwest Detention Center, run by the private GEO Group, is located in Tacoma. CREDIT: KOMO via AP
The Northwest Detention Center, run by the private GEO Group, is located in Tacoma. CREDIT: KOMO-TV via AP

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Immigration advocates are calling for detention centers to reinstate visitation rights that were taken away in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

Katherine Niall, visitation coordinator for Advocates for Immigrants in Detention (AID) Northwest says it is time to reinstate visitation at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

“We really think it’s time that we get to go in and visit with the people who are being detained, who are highly stressed and very, very anxious, and ready for their people to be able to come in,” Niall says.

She says ICE has stated they are following CDC guidelines by not allowing visitors, although the state department of corrections has allowed for some visitation in jails and prisons. According to Niall, ICE  stated they won’t open one detention facility until all can be open.

One of the biggest emotional upheavals for families with loved ones detained is not being able to say goodbye if they are deported.

Tien Ho was previously detained at the Northwest Detention Center for two and a half years, including during the pandemic.

“We as humans, need to talk, need to feel the interaction, need to feel love, you know, even by strangers,” Ho says.

While Ho says visitation before the pandemic was often difficult to obtain, seeing and interacting with someone was a necessity. Ho adds that most visitation happens behind glass and she is not sure why it had to stop during the pandemic — especially because outbreaks have happened within the facility, even without visitors. 

ICE officials confirmed that there has still been no change in the guidance to allow visitation.