TACOMA, Wash. – Amid a tense national dialogue around immigration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to change public perception of its work.
Tuesday, ICE invited members of the press to tour a privately-run immigrant detention center in Tacoma, where in July local police shot and killed a man who tried to carry out an armed assault on the building.
Nathalie Asher, Seattle Field Office Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, told invited media Tuesday that ICE hoped to tell the "true story" about what happens inside its facilities.
"I think it's very important that we dispel a lot of the myths that unfortunately are out there about what it is that we're doing," she said.
Currently, there are about 1,326 men and women at the Northwest ICE Processing Center awaiting the outcome of immigration proceedings.
“About 65% of the books-in currently are coming from the southern border, southwest border,” Asher said.
ICE said the facility has never been used to house children, nor has it been overcrowded – a contrast to facilities along the southern border, where images of children in detention and severe overcrowding have fanned an already fiery national debate. Asher said the contrasting facilities do not serve the same purpose.
"Those are border patrol holding facilities," she said of those often depicted in national news reports. "They were never designed for long-term detention."
Before the tour began Tuesday, an ICE spokesperson distributed a fact sheet designed to counter narratives about sanctuary policies and so-called "ICE raids," calling the use of that term, “fear-mongering."
“The public likes to use the word 'raid,' but a raid in its definition would be us randomly running in somewhere saying, 'Who is here illegally?’ That's not what we do. It's a targeted enforcement action," ICE spokesperson Tanya Roman said.
ICE also distributed pictures showing clean dental and medical exam rooms, day areas with flat-screen TVs, space for recreation, and computers.
“Look for yourself, we run this facility well,” Asher told reporters. “Do these guys want to be here? Well of course not. Who would want to be here?”
As Asher spoke, a detainee behind her tried to get the attention of gathered reporters, complaining about the reason for his detention. Moments earlier, detainees pounded on glass and shouted they were "hungry" and were "not being fed." Later on in the tour, Asher said detainees are given a 3,000 calorie diet.
"It's a varied menu," she said. "Is it going to satisfy everyone's taste? No. But it's 3,000 calories a day. So we have people sometimes that, when it's time for them to book out, if they've been here any substantial amount of time, they can't fit into their clothes anymore."
Asher said one of her primary concerns is that a heated national dialogue over immigration has heightened security concerns at facilities around the country, including in Tacoma.
On July 13, Willem Van Spronsen, 69, of Vashon Island, was shot and killed by Tacoma police after approaching the facility armed with a rifle and incendiary devices. He lit his own car on fire, causing it to explode, before police arrived on scene. Spronson had a history of protesting immigration policies, having been arrested outside the same facility in 2018.
Editor's note: Media outlet were given and agreed to some restrictions before entering the facility, which included not taking a video of detainees faces to protect their privacy. Q13 also agreed not to reveal anything that could jeopardize the security of the facility.