Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill on Wednesday that bans for-profit detention centers, including immigration facilities, in the state of Washington.
The only Washington facility impacted by the bill is the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The Northwest Detention Center is one of the United States’ largest, for-profit immigration jails. The GEO Group operates this facility under a contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill would shut down the detention center by 2025 because GEO’s contract with ICE expires in 2025. The bill will likely face a legal challenge.
The Northwest Detention Center is a 1,575-bed immigration jail. Fewer than 200 detainees are currently at the jail because of pandemic-related precautions. Supporters of the bill assert that the sharp decrease in immigration detention resulting from the pandemic shows that it is not necessary to detain a high number of immigrants.
Matt Adams, the legal director at the Northwest Immigration Rights Project, expressed his support of the bill, explaining that the bill “is an important step towards rejecting the privatization and profiteering model of immigration detention centers that has pushed the massive expansion of immigration detention.”
Alexandra Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the Day 1 Alliance, a trade association of GEO, criticized the bill. She stated that the bill is “a misguided, politically-motivated effort to ‘Abolish ICE’ by targeting longtime government contractors who have zero role in deciding federal immigration policy.” Wilkes further explained that if the Northwest Detention Center is closed, migrants may be transferred to local jails or “moved far from family and friends.”
In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice (DOJ) not to renew contracts with private prisons. The executive order does not apply to the immigration detention system under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).