Protesters are staging weekly vigils around a facility in a northwest Washington town that they say is a short-term holding facility for immigration law enforcement.
The organization Community to Community Development, or C2C, discovered the facility – an unmarked building in Ferndale – through public records and testimony from community members.
Liz Darrow, legislative advocate with C2C, said in January, they believe a restaurant worker from Bellingham was taken to the building before being transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
She said time is of the essence when someone is detained.
“If we could get some transparency here in Whatcom County and a family could have access to their family member,” said Darrow, “then we think that we could slow down the number of folks that are deported here because we could get mobilized and that kind of thing.”
David Yost, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma is the only detention center of its kind in Washington state.
The agency says the individual in question, a restaurant worker, was deported in 2019 and then returned to the community.
Yost says specific details of the transportation process are not available for safety and privacy reasons, but notes that it’s not uncommon during transport to make several stops.
C2C has raised concerns that ICE isn’t following its 2021 guidance to focus only on people who pose a threat to “national security, public safety and border security.”
Brenda Bentley coordinates Dignity Vigils every Monday near the unmarked building in Ferndale. She said removals have instilled fear in the local community.
“When you’re not able to contact your loved ones,” said Bentley, “and this can continue all the way through to being in Tacoma, where the loved ones won’t know where the person has gone for three days, possibly more – it’s like that person has been disappeared off the streets.”
Bentley said the road to detention and deportation starts in facilities like the one they suspect in Ferndale. She said the Dignity Vigils take place on a highway with high visibility.
“Community members, once they found out about this ICE location, were really committed to coming every week and putting a spotlight on this site,” said Bentley. “Because it shouldn’t be allowed to be hidden in our community like this. The public has the right to know what’s going on.”
Riley Sweeney, a spokesperson for the city of Ferndale, says the city is aware of the Border Patrol facility located within the city limits but, since it’s a federal facility, they are not involved with or responsible for the operations at that location.
Featured image: Advocates for immigrant rights hold a “dignity vigil” every week outside of a facility in Ferndale, WA they believe is a ICE holding station. (Brenda Bentley)
Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.