Immigrant advocates locked arms Monday morning at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA. Their goal was to physically block the feds from deporting people who are in the US illegally. These blockades are part of an ongoing, nationwide campaign.
Angelica: "You guys, hey. This way."
Angelica Chazaro sprints down a side street near the Tacoma detention center.
Chazaro: "Run that way, run that way….run run run."
Two white, detention center vans are heading toward an exit.
It’s believed the passengers on board are headed for deportation.
The vans bolt forward, then spin around. The demonstrators double back.
It’s a quick game of cat and mouse. Finally, the vans peel away toward another street.
Chazaro: “We might have lost them.”
Chazaro and about 50 other advocates staged this blockade as part of a national campaign. The efforts have disrupted deportations at lockups in Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta…and now Tacoma.
Chazaro says they want to halt the steady rise of deportations since President Obama took office. Deportations reached a record high in 2012, with more than 400-thousand people removed from the US.
Demonstrators here also say they’ve turned to this new tactic, out of frustration with Congress’ impasse on immigration reform.
At the center’s main gate, a dozen advocates have chained their arms together in a human blockade.
A perimeter of Tacoma Police and security guards keep a watchful eye.
The demonstrators strategically chose this day. Mondays are when the feds typically load detainees on busses to the airport, for a flight back to their home countries.
Milton Cornejo, of El Salvador, is part of the human chain. He says he’s willing to risk arrest, and even more.
Cornejo: “I’m undocumented.”
I’m also undocumented, he says. But Cornejo says he’s willing to face deportation himself, so that other mothers and fathers someday won’t have to.
Cornejo: “I was afraid before, he says. I didn’t want to risk my security and freedom. But now I feel it’s time to help. I have a lot to lose but it doesn’t matter because this fight has to end."
Tacoma’s detention center is the largest facility of its kind on the West Coast. It holds enough beds for nearly 16-hundred people who’ve been detained for immigration violations.
The facility’s staff declined to comment for this story.
As another van moves toward a gate, half of the human chain runs off to block it.
But before they arrive, a woman throws herself into the vehicle’s path.
She believes her husband is inside. He was scheduled for deportation today, back to Mexico.
Tacoma Police swiftly arrest her – the only arrest of the day.
They charge Michelle Manrique, then release her back into the crowd.
Manriqque: “They said the bus is already gone. My husband’s gone.”
Manrique says her husband, Miguel, has been in detention since September. An ICE spokesman in Seattle confirms Miguel was a priority for deportation, because he’s already crossed the border illegally five times.
In his defense, Manrique says her husband’s life is here.
Jones: "I saw you here, throw yourself right in front of the bus."
Michelle: "That’s my husband I love him…he’s all we’ve got. I’m sorry."
Wiping her eyes, her next move is to call the detention center, to confirm if her husband is really gone.
Then, she’ll figure out some way to break the news to their two children.
Copyright 2014 KUOW.