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Northwest ICE Processing Center Information & FAQs

Northwest ICE Processing Center Information and FAQs

Information and Resources on the Northwest ICE Processing Center 

The Northwest ICE Processing Center, located on Tacoma’s Tideflats and operated by GEO Group, continues to be a popular discussion topic for Tacoma’s community. To help make the conversation more accessible, the City, at the request of the Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, has begun translating all City materials, presentations and correspondence regarding the Northwest ICE Processing Center to Spanish.


Materials and Presentations


Date Document (English) Document (Spanish/Español)
December 2020  2021 State Legislative Priorities & Agenda  
December 2020  2021 Federal Legislative Priorities & Agenda  
August 4, 2020  Resolution 40636 Resolución N.° 40636
December 10, 2019  2020 State Legislative Priorities & Agenda 

Prioridades Estatales Legislativas 2020 de La Ciudad de Tacoma

December 10, 2019
2020 Federal Legislative Priorities & Agenda

Prioridades Federales 2020 de La Ciudad de Tacoma 

July 25, 2019 Informational Report Memo from Tacoma's City Manager
Reporte Informativo  

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated Oct. 9, 2019, 10:56 AM

What is the Northwest ICE Processing Center?


Located on Tacoma's Tideflats, the Northwest ICE Processing Center is the fourth-largest immigration detention center in the country. People are held at the facility while undergoing immigration proceedings, potentially facing deportation.

Source: Washington State Office of Attorney General

Who operates the Northwest ICE Processing Center?


GEO Group, Inc. has operated the facility under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2005. The Florida-based company has been in partnership with ICE since the 1980s and, in 2015, ICE renewed GEO's contract for Northwest ICE Processing Center through 2025. Northwest ICE Processing Center is one of 141 correctional and detention facilities operated by the company.

Source: Washington State Office of Attorney General

How many immigrant detainees can the Northwest ICE Processing Center hold?

The Northwest ICE Processing Center has the capacity to house up to 1,575 immigrant detainees.


Source: Washington State Office of Attorney General 


Has the City of Tacoma ever funded or contributed to the construction or expansion of the Northwest ICE Processing Center?  

No. The multi-million dollar detention center was funded through private funds and financing authority assistance from Washington State. The state issued more than $50 million of non-recourse revenue bonds to help finance the facility.  


What is the Tacoma City Council doing to help foster a more welcoming, immigrant-friendly environment in Tacoma?

  • The Tacoma City Council authorized the City’s membership in the Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative, a network of over 40 localities nationwide which encourages communities to create more welcoming, immigrant-friendly environments that maximize opportunities for economic growth and vitality. A Welcoming City or Welcoming County is one that joins the Welcoming America network and works across multiple sectors - such as government, business and non-profit - to create inclusive policies and practices like making it easier for entrepreneurs to start a business or having government documents available in multiple languages. Welcoming Cities are guided by the principles of inclusion and creating communities that prosper because everyone feels welcome, including immigrants and refugees.

    Source:  Welcoming America

  • Another way the City is encouraging a more welcoming environment is by partnering with communities within Tacoma to sponsor events such as Latino Town Halls.
  • The Tacoma City Council established a Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs to better engage Tacoma’s immigrant and refugee communities, and to work with community partners to identify and advance positive outcomes specifically impacting the immigrant and refugee communities in Tacoma. The Commission is comprised of 11 members (to include one youth or young adult under the age of 25) and one alternate who are nominated and appointed by a majority vote of Council.
  • In response to growing community concerns about Tacoma residents facing deportation, the Tacoma City Council authorized the creation of a Deportation Defense Fund to assist with their legal defense services. The fund’s establishment was one of several recommendations provided by the Immigrant and Refugee Task Force, and the City has since entered into a contract with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to provide those services. Community members can contribute to the Deportation Defense Fund by sending a check to the City of Tacoma Treasurer’s Office (747 Market St., Room 246, Tacoma, WA 98402) with the subject line “Deportation Defense Fund” or by submitting a donation online at: https://payment.cityoftacoma.org/donation

What is the Mayor's position regarding immigrants and refugees?

“There is great concern across the country and here in Tacoma on the separation of immigrant families, and I share that concern. It’s because of this that I am proud to have joined with mayors from coast to coast, from cities large and small, mayors who are both Democrats and Republicans, to ask the president and Congress to act swiftly to reunite divided families and provide local and state leaders with full access to information regarding children separated from their parents so that we can help make sure these children get the services they need.


I want to make it clear that Tacoma remains a Welcoming City that is committed to providing immigrant and refugee communities with equitable access to City services. To aid in this effort, this year we appointed members to the City’s first Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. This Commission was created to better engage with these community members and to work with local organizations to identify and advance positive outcomes for our neighbors who are immigrants and refugees.


On June 30, members of our community organized multiple events to raise their voices and declare that ‘Families Belong Together,’ and many continue to speak out. I want to thank those who have been using their time and their voices to elevate this important issue, and I urge you to continue this work. Tacoma’s strength and vibrancy depends on the wellbeing and contributions of all members of our community. While it will take all of our efforts to keep attention on this area of shared concern, I vow that I will continue to fight for the health, safety, and success of immigrants and refugees.”


What is the Tacoma City Manager’s position on the recent  demonstrations at the Northwest ICE Processing Center?

“We respect the rights of all individuals and groups to demonstrate outside the Northwest ICE Processing Center. The issues at hand are deeply important, not just to our community members but to city hall as well. City officials and the Tacoma Police Department will continue to work with community members to ensure that they are able to exercise their First Amendment rights in a lawful and safe manner.”


If the Tacoma Police Department arrests someone, do they check immigration status? If they discover that someone they've arrested is undocumented, do they turn them over to ICE?


The Tacoma Police Department does not check the immigration status of people taken into custody. If an officer arrests someone and learns that he or she is undocumented, the officer does not turn that person over to ICE.


If ICE does not have a place to hold someone – for instance, if all the beds at the Northwest ICE Processing Center are filled - do they house them in Tacoma prisons?


The only jail facility in Tacoma is the Pierce County Jail and it is the City’s understanding that they do not incarcerate individuals based exclusively on their immigration status.

On June 27, 2018, did the Tacoma Police Department ask demonstrators to leave? Don’t people have the right to demonstrate? And don’t people camped out have 72 hours to leave?  

The Tacoma Police Department did not ask people to leave who were demonstrating outside the Northwest ICE Processing Center in a lawful and safe manner. However, the Tacoma Police Department did ask for the voluntary removal of the structures and materials that had been placed in this location so the public right-of-way remained free and clear of structures and obstructions for public use as required under the Tacoma Municipal Code.  These requirements are in place to protect public safety, which is particularly important in this case where large numbers of people are gathering in a confined space near an active rail line. The City’s practice of posting notice for 72 hours has no application here, because individuals were not being asked to leave the site.  The request was for structures only due to immediate public safety concerns.

What is considered to be the public right-of-way?

According to the Tacoma Municipal Code, public rights-of-way encompass the area of land, the right to possession of which is secured by the City for right-of-way purposes, the traveled portion of the public streets and alleys, as well as the border area, which includes, but is not limited to, any sidewalks, planting strips, traffic circles, or medians. 

Rights of way dimensions and locations are defined during the platting process, except in instances where the owner of private property conveys a portion of their property to the City for right of way purposes. In these instances, the legal description is defined on the conveyance document.


The term Right of Way is defined in TMC 10.22.020(S) as: “Rights-of-Way means the public streets and easements which, under Applicable Law, the City has regulatory authority, and any license, or Permit granting any right to or use thereof, excluding railroad rights-of-way, airport, and harbor areas. Rights-of-Way, for the purpose of this chapter, do not include buildings, parks, poles, or similar facilities or property owned by or leased to the City, including, by way of example and not limitation, Structures in the Rights-of-Way such as utility poles and light poles.”


In addition, requirements for occupancies of the rights-of-way are detailed in TMC 9.08.


The City’s rights-of-way authority stems from the police power under the Washington State Constitution (Article XI, Section 11), as well as statutes such as RCW 35A.11.020, which provides code cities with broad power “in regard to the acquisition, sale, ownership, improvement, maintenance, protection, restoration, regulation, use, leasing, disposition, vacation, abandonment or beautification of public ways.” In addition, RCW 35.22.280(7) gives first class cities authority to “lay out, establish, open, alter, widen, extend, grade, pave, plank, establish grades, or otherwise improve streets, alleys, avenues, sidewalks, wharves, parks, and other public grounds, and to regulate and control the use thereof, and to vacate the same, and to authorize or prohibit the use of electricity at, in, or upon any of said streets, or for other purposes, and to prescribe the terms and conditions upon which the same may be so used, and to regulate the use thereof.”


The public right-of-way adjacent to the Northwest ICE Processing Center abuts an active railroad right-of-way that is privately owned and operated by BNSF.  This railroad right-of-way is not a part of the public right-of-way.   

Why did the City of Tacoma install a fence on the right-of way where the demonstrations are occurring outside the Northwest ICE Processing Center?

The fencing is for the safety of all using the public portion of the right-of-way.
BSNF has expressed concern over the large numbers of people gathering in a confined space in their private right-of-way near an active rail line. The fencing was installed to protect both the demonstrator’s safety as well as the constitutional right to demonstrate. The fencing is situated eight feet from the tracks, which is the minimum safe distance required by BNSF.  The fencing delineates the public right-of-way vs. BSNF private property.


With regard to the temporary structures for shade that were recently authorized by the City of Tacoma, what types of structures are allowed?


Pop-up canopies, umbrellas, sunshades and similar temporary structures are allowed as long as these structures have no opaque walls, are for shade only, and are not anchored with stakes to avoid damage to the irrigation system.


When can these temporary structures for shade be put up?


These structures can be put up, effective July 12, 2018, on a first-come, first-served basis.


Where are these temporary structures for shade allowed?


The authorization applies to the planting strip located adjacent to the Northwest ICE Processing Center at 1623 E. J St.  These structures are only allowed on that planting strip between the temporary fence and the sidewalk.  These structures are not allowed on the sidewalk, roadway, driveway or railroad right-of-way.

Can these temporary structures for shade be used for overnight stays?


Given that the City has significant public health concerns associated with overnight stays at any location that does not include appropriate sanitation measures to protect the public health, safety and welfare, it is not the City’s intent to authorize these structures to be used for overnight stays. 


Is separate authorization required for overnight stays?


Yes. Please contact Kala Dralle at (253) 573-2523 for further information.


Under other circumstances, can people obtain a permit to have a private structure in the public right-of-way?

In certain instances, private structures may be located in public rights-of-way.  Requests are evaluated through a Right-of-Way Occupancy permit, a provision of Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) 9.08 Right-of-Way Occupancies. A Right-of-Way Occupancy permit allows for private use of the public right-of-way. More information on the Right-Of-Way Occupancy permit process is available at

Does the City of Tacoma have any contractual relationships with GEO Group, Inc.?

The City has no contractual relationships with GEO Group, Inc. The Tacoma Fire Department does, however, have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with GEO Group, Inc.  See the question below for more details. 


Do the Tacoma Police Department and Tacoma Fire Department have MOUs with GEO Group, Inc.?


While the Tacoma Police Department does not have any MOUs with GEO Group, Inc., the Tacoma Fire Department does. The understanding acknowledges the City will provide the same level of service it provides to the community as a whole in the event of an emergency. The MOU was established in 2014 to create an understanding about how each party (Tacoma Fire Department and GEO Group, Inc.) could request assistance during an emergency. The MOU is non-binding, which means it does not require either party to provide service. The City is not paid for services provided.

Of note, a provision in the agreement states that, in the event of a mass evacuation, all transportation vehicles should (but are not required to) be equipped with specific types of restraint devices for all individuals being transported. This provision is not mandatory.  If an event were to occur, the Tacoma Fire Department does not have nor will it provide such vehicles and equipment with restraining devices.


Can the City of Tacoma take away GEO Group, Inc.’s business license?


As a municipal government entity, the City has the responsibility of applying the same standards in a fair and equitable manner to all businesses. This means the City cannot revoke a business license unless a business is failing to meet the standards outlined in the City’s Municipal Code.


The City has a variety of codes under which it may close a business down.  For example, if there are significant enough building violations at a business, the City may close down the business, at least until the violations are fixed. 


The City also has business license regulations, which allow the City in certain circumstances, to close a business. 


Under Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) 6B.10.140, the City of Tacoma has the authority to revoke a license based on certain grounds among which include: 

  • The licensee or employee has been convicted of a crime involving the business;
  • The licensee’s continued conduct of the business will result in a danger to the public health, safety, or welfare by reason of:
    • the licensee, or his/her agents or employees, have in the conduct of the business, violated any local, state, or federal law relating to public health or safety
    • the conduct of the business has resulted in the creation of a public nuisance; or
    • the licensee is tolerant of a public nuisance or criminal activity which the licensee can reasonably control or prevent

A business has the right to appeal a revocation within 10 days to the City’s Hearing Examiner.  The business may continue to operate throughout the appeal process.


Under TMC 6B.10.145, the City of Tacoma can summarily suspend a license if any of the listed conditions are found by the City:

An informal hearing is scheduled within three business days of the suspension with the Finance Director. The Finance Director considers all of the information and decides whether the suspension should be upheld. 


The Finance Director’s decision can be appealed to the Hearing Examiner.  The business is required to remain closed throughout the appeal process. 


What are the applicable taxes that are imposed by the City of Tacoma on GEO Group, Inc.’s operations, along with a brief analysis of any other potential taxes that the City may impose?


The City of Tacoma imposes a “service and other” business and occupation (B&O) tax against GEO Group, Inc. Because of the City’s confidentiality code in TMC 6A.10.200, the City is not able to disclose how much tax GEO Group, Inc. pays the City. The State of Washington has the same confidentiality law with regards to taxes paid to the state.   


Tacoma’s Service & Other B&O tax rate is currently 0.4 percent.  This means that each business, including GEO Group, Inc., in the Services & Other tax category pays 0.4 percent of their business earnings to the City.  A higher rate can only be imposed by voter approval to all businesses included in the Service and Other B&O tax category.


The City has general and broad authority to impose excise taxes. In addition to the business and occupation tax, the City may impose another general excise tax on a specific business industry such as detention centers, through an ordinance that defends and explains why the City is imposing the tax.  Cities are not able to tax to impose a tax on one specific business. 


Is there a chicken pox outbreak at the Northwest ICE Processing Center?

There have been two recent situations involving potential chicken pox cases at the Northwest ICE Processing Center. 


The U.S. Public Health Service staff are responsible for healthcare and managing disease outbreaks at the Northwest ICE Processing Center. U.S. Public Health Service staff reports to ICE Health Services, a part of Homeland Security. The facility is not required to report any cases or outbreaks to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. The medical director at the facility is a U.S. Public Health Service employee.


Northwest ICE Processing Center staff do sometimes consult with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department disease control staff as a courtesy, but they are not required to do so. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reviewed the steps U.S. Public Health Service staff were taking to prevent transmission. Those steps met established and effective disease control protocols.


All other medical facilities and medical providers in Pierce County must report cases and outbreaks of certain diseases, such as hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis, pertussis and others to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department works with healthcare providers to implement control measures that prevent diseases from spreading so we can protect public health.


Chicken pox is a generally mild disease and, in Washington state, facilities with a chickenpox outbreak can notify the local health jurisdiction if they need help containing it, but reporting chicken pox to the local health jurisdiction is not required.

Why is the Washington State Attorney General suing GEO Group, Inc.?


The State of Washington has two claims against GEO Group, Inc.  First, the lawsuit accuses GEO Group, Inc. of violating Washington’s minimum wage laws.  State law, RCW 49.46.010(k), exempts the following from protections from Washington’s minimum wage laws: “Any resident, inmate, or patient of a state, county, or municipal correctional, detention, treatment or rehabilitative institution.”  There are no exceptions for private, for-profit facilities like the detention center operated by GEO Group, Inc.  Second, the state also argues that GEO Group, Inc. unjustly enriched itself, meaning it profited by its illegal actions exploiting its workers.

What is the latest on the Washington State Attorney General’s lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc. and is the City of Tacoma involved?


The State of Washington’s 2017 lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc. is currently in Federal District Court.  The State is seeking to compel GEO Group, Inc. to pay State minimum wage to detainees for work performed in the center. The judge had denied a motion by GEO Group, Inc. to dismiss the lawsuit, and recently ruled that federal law did not preclude payment of Washington minimum wage. The City of Tacoma is not involved directly in this lawsuit, but the City’s arguments in its own federal lawsuit with GEO Group, Inc. are consistent with those advanced by the Attorney General's Office.


Is the Northwest ICE Processing Center required to comply with the City of Tacoma’s minimum employment standards?

Yes, the Northwest ICE Processing Center is required to comply with the City of Tacoma’s minimum employment standards for its employees.  The City’s Minimum Wage Code, Tacoma Municipal Code 18.20, relies on the State of Washington’s Minimum Wage Act for the definitions of “employ”, “employee” and “employer”. 


It is uncertain at this time if the City can apply its Minimum Wage laws (which offer a higher wage than state law) against GEO Group, Inc. for work done by its detainees. The City is monitoring the state’s minimum wage lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc.  If the state prevails, the City will review the decision and impacts to GEO Group, Inc. detainees.


Background: In April 2016, the City investigated a paid leave complaint filed by an employee against GEO Group, Inc.  The City and GEO Group, Inc. settled the matter in August 2017, with GEO Group, Inc. updating its notices and policies with regard to paid leave, and with GEO Group, Inc. paying or banking owed paid leave to former and current employees. GEO Group, Inc. paid and/or banked nearly $90,000 in previously earned paid leave to former and current employees at the Northwest ICE Processing Center. 


Can you provide a summary of the permanent land use regulations impacting the Northwest ICE Processing Center and the two lawsuits filed by the owners (GEO Group, Inc.) against the City of Tacoma?


The City of Tacoma’s land use regulations impacting the Northwest ICE Processing Center allow GEO Group, Inc.'s existing location to remain in operation, but limits future expansion in the Port Maritime Industrial Zone. In the future, any similar facilities must be located in M-1 districts.

The City’s zoning regulations have been challenged by GEO Group, Inc., with two lawsuits affecting the Northwest Detention Center, one in Federal District Court and one before the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB).  In its lawsuits, GEO Group, Inc. claims that the City violated its civil rights, and the State Growth Management Act (GMA) by rezoning the area where Northwest ICE Processing Center is located to disallow new correction and detention facilities. GEO Group, Inc. claims its center is an essential public facility under the GMA and is not subject to regulation. The City disputes the claims and says that the rezoning of the Northwest ICE Processing Center was lawful and consistent with the GMA.

To date, the City has prevailed before the GMHB. GEO Group, Inc. appealed the GMHB’s first decision in favor of Tacoma to the Thurston County Superior Court which remanded the case to the GMHB. This week, the GMHB again rejected GEO Group, Inc.’s arguments finding. A City motion to dismiss the federal case is also pending. 


What is the City doing in terms of policy?

City staff are currently working on developing a legislative proposal for introduction in the 2020 legislative session, and this issue was addressed in the draft legislative agenda that was presented to Council on September 24, 2019. This draft legislative agenda was informed by policy discussions the Community Vitality and Safety Committee held around issues of concern related to the Northwest ICE Processing Center this summer. Discussions addressed the legal challenges that the City is facing from GEO Group, Inc. which center around the land use regulations set in place by the Council that prohibited the facility from expanding specifically to accommodate additional detainees over the current capacity.

I need information about, or need to get in touch with, a detainee at the Northwest ICE Processing Center. Who can I contact?

If you need information about a detainee that is housed at this facility, you may call the Northwest ICE Processing Center at (253) 779-6000.


When you call, please have the individual's biographical information ready, including first, last and hyphenated names, any aliases he or she may use, date of birth and country of birth.


Detainees cannot receive incoming calls. If you need to get in touch with a detainee to leave an urgent message, you must call (253) 396-1611 and leave the detainee's full name, alien registration number and your name and telephone number where you can be reached. The detainee will be given your message.

Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Does the Tacoma Police Department know about the City of Tacoma’s authorization of temporary structures for shade?


Yes. The Tacoma Police Department will not ask for the removal of any structures that meet the parameters of this authorization.


What is the Tacoma Police Department doing to train on policies and procedures, relating to de-escalation and free expression activity?

Tacoma Police Department officers participate in on-going de-escalation training related to a number of situations, to include responding to protest activity where community members are openly expressing their First Amendment rights. The Special Response Team, which has primary responsibility for responding to large scale demonstrations and related activity, train nearly monthly on responding to protest situations, including de-escalation techniques. 


I have a commendation or complaint about a Tacoma Police Department employee. Who can I contact?

It is the Tacoma Police Department’s mission to create a safe and secure environment in which to live, work, and visit by working together with the community, enforcing the law in a fair and impartial manner, preserving the peace and order in our neighborhoods, and safeguarding our constitutional guarantees.


Commendations can be emailed to TPDcommendations@cityoftacoma.org.


Complaints can be emailed to TPD-IA@cityoftacoma.org. You can also call (253) 798-4722 at any time. Calls will be forwarded to an on-duty supervisor. Details on the Tacoma Police Department process for handling complaints is available online at: cityoftacoma.org/TPDcomplaintprocess

I would like to make a complaint of misconduct about an ICE employee or contract services employee at the Northwest ICE Processing Center. Who can I contact?


If you feel that an ICE employee or contract services employee mistreated you and wish to make a complaint of misconduct, you may:


Contact the Field Office Director at:
Field Office Director, Enforcement and Removal Operations
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
12500 Tukwila International Boulevard, 4th Floor
Seattle, WA 98168
(206) 835-0650


Write the Office of Professional Responsibility:
Director, Office of Professional Responsibility
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
P.O. Box 14475
Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20044

Contact the Joint Intake Center:
Phone Number: (877) 2INTAKE

You may also contact the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General:
DHS Office of Inspector General/MAIL STOP 0305
Attn: Office of Investigations - Hotline
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528-0305
Call: (800) 323-8603
​Fax: (202) 254-4297 

Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

I am a member of the media who would like to interview a detainee or staff at the Northwest ICE Processing Center. Who can I contact?


Members of the press should contact ICE Public Affairs at (206) 442-1450 for further information.

Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement