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Post-Election, Wash. Immigrant Communities Say 'We've Been Here Before'

The group NWDC Resistance says the Northwest Detention Center is over capacity and questions the conditions and treatment of immigrants held there. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
The group NWDC Resistance says the Northwest Detention Center is over capacity and questions the conditions and treatment of immigrants held there. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
November 18, 2016

SEATTLE – As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office and many wonder if he will follow through on plans to increase deportations, Washington state immigrant communities say they've been here before.

Maru Mora Villalpando, an immigrant-rights organizer and founder of Latino Advocacy, said the deportation "machine" already is in place, with more than 2.5 million people being deported under the Obama administration. She said immigrant communities have set up defenses after years of experience with increased deportations.

"We are experts now in dealing with this, not only in surviving but fighting back," she said. "What we are going to do now is create a big network, kind of a shield, amongst our communities and with allies. Our communities already have been developing different tools of protection and defense against deportation."

Villalpando said communities have legal observers on call and have developed "rapid response teams" in the event Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up at someone's house. This year, an organization Villapando is involved with called NWDC Resistance set up a toll-free hotline for people to report ICE activity.

NWDC Resistance is a grassroots organization that came together after a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in 2014. With a capacity of nearly 1,600, the detention center is one of the largest for immigrants in the country. Run by the private prison corporation GEO Group, Villalpando said the center is over capacity and that there have been several incidents with guards that make her question the inmates' safety.

"So our job is not only to make sure that people know what's going on inside, but to actually try to dismantle this machine to ensure these detention centers disappear so that people are back with their families," she explained.

Villalpando said regardless of whether Trump begins deporting more immigrants with criminal records, as he has promised, it's important that communities organize themselves now.

"We need to know who are our neighbors, get to know them, talk to them, and in any crisis, we should be able to work together," she added. "We shouldn't wait for an earthquake to see what happens to our neighbors, if our neighbors are OK."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA