The 9th Annual Mother’s Day Vigil at the Northwest Detention Center
By Teresa Burciaga and Dick Gillett
On Saturday May 13, more than 100 people gathered along a chain link fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds a stark non-descript prison in the midst of shabby industrial acreage in the city of Tacoma: the Northwest Detention Center. After the crowd had laid down a mound of Mother’s Day bouquets near the fence, a Latino group played music and we prayed and chanted, hoping the prisoners inside would hear us and take heart. “No, No, No Basta Rezar,” the group sang, and we responded (No, it is not enough to pray). Four of us were present from St Andrew’s: Theresa Burciaga and Geoff Miller, Dorothy Gibson, and Dick Gillett.
We were gathered at the behest of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice of Portland Oregon, and the Washington Community Action Network, and this was the 9th Annual Mother’s Day Vigil at the prison. The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma is owned by the GEO Group, one of the largest security firms in the world—the same corporation that runs Guantanamo Bay. It is the nation’s second largest for-profit prison operator, with a capacity for more than 1500 persons at the Tacoma facility.
Emboldened by new policies under the Trump administration, the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE) has stepped up raids. These sweeps include men and women who have no criminal record— mothers and fathers who have held jobs for over 20 years; who have American-born children—that are being detained and deported. Civil rights don’t extend to these immigrants being held at the Northwest Detention Center. They can be held there indefinitely.
“They are mothers and fathers who have lived alongside us”, stated Theresa Burciaga. “They are our neighbors. Their children go to school alongside ours. They hold jobs, sometimes as many as three to make a living—and pay Social Security and Medicare tax. They shop at our supermarkets and stores and pay sales tax. They are good, law-abiding people. Now their lives are in jeopardy.”
There were testimonies at the Vigil. One young mother spoke of her hope for a better life for herself and her family. Another mother, a United Methodist lay woman, told us she was there to remember and pray for her son, two years after he was deported to Mexico. Many immigrants come to this country to escape chronic poverty, criminal violence and government corruption. The prayerful community gathered at the Vigil stood in solidarity for love, justice and compassion. As their signs proclaimed, “Love has no borders, ” and “No one is free when other people are oppressed.”
We have an opportunity now to stand up for them and create more sanctuary cities and states. And we’ve recently learned that St. Mark’s Cathedral is proceeding to become a sanctuary church. Meanwhile, we in the faith communities might work to eventually close down that private prison, Northwest Detention Center..