Detained asylum-seeker dies in Tacoma: Another reason to abolish ICE

The Northwest Detention Center is a private, for-profit prison that stands on the tide flats of the Port of Tacoma. It is one of the largest immigration prisons in the Northwest. — photo courtesy of the Seattle Globalist

This week the tragic news broke that Mergensana Amar, a Russian asylum-seeker, died. He had been detained at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) for nearly a year. He came to the United States seeking asylum due to fear of violence in Russia because of his political beliefs. When his asylum request was denied, he remained in the NWDC.

His death is a tragic miscarriage of justice that speaks to the larger problem facing our country currently: the unjust and inhumane treatment of people trying to enter the country. One of the largest perpetrators of this lays in our backyard here in Tacoma: The Northwest Detention Center.

According to the movement “NWDC Resistance,” the NWDC holds the title as one of the largest detention centers in the United States and is powered by one of the largest private-prison companies in the United States. People are brought to the detention center either from a border or from raids, and they can spend months here, if not years, awaiting trial.

Amar was brought into custody in Dec. 2017. His asylum application was denied in Aug. 2018, nine months after his arrival in the United States. Following the denial of his asylum, he began a hunger strike. He continued so long that it placed him in grave danger. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sought permission to force-feed and force-hydrate Amar. This petition was filed the exact same day that Amar’s appeal deadline ended. When Amar went to appeal after recovering from the hunger strike, his appeal was not allowed.

It is appalling that his appeal was denied on this basis. If someone is close to dying, they obviously cannot appeal a court decision. Amar was trying to save his life, and hoped that the court system would help him by granting him asylum. When this did not happen, he chose a peaceful means of resistance. This resistance prevented him from being able to follow the timeline for appealing the decision. This deadline should never have existed.

The Seattle Times reported that, on Nov. 15, Amar attempted to hang himself. He was then taken to the hospital and placed on life support. NWDC Resistance held a vigil after his death on Nov. 24 at St. Joseph Medical Center.

These people who are coming to this country seeking asylum, shelter or refuge face a plethora of hurdles that can make entering the country impossible. Many times, immigrants do not have the money, resources or connections to navigate the convoluted and bureaucratic immigration process.

As the NWDC Resistance community organizer Mary Mora Villalpando told the Seattle Times, “Amar’s death is an example of the lengths that ICE will go to keep people in detention. They could have released him and they decided not to. He kept telling us, ‘I’d rather die here than be deported.’”

The United States is a country built off of immigrants. White colonizers forcibly took this land from indigenous people, making colonizers themselves the incarnation of all the negative immigrant stereotypes. Yet, many people in the United States act as though this land is their God-Given right. To many of them, that right extends so far as blocking people from entering this country the exact same way any non-indigenous person has come to the United States.

Immigration is inevitable, it is part of living in a global society. It is part of being a country that touts itself as “the greatest country” (which is problematic on so many levels and far too much to discuss in this one article). Americans who claim that America is the “best country” cannot say this and then immediately deny people entry to that same country. It does not work.

People will continue to immigrate to the United States. The least we can do as a country is welcome them and provide them the resources they need to be able to survive and thrive here. If you are upset by the current state of the country, take action. Advocates for Detained Voices is a club on campus that works to oppose the NWDC. You can also join the NWDC Resistance group.

On a more broad level: make your voice heard!! Vote, call your representatives, write letters, attend marches, engage in discussions with people, stay informed about these issues, know that you can make a difference! Right now is the time to take action and create the world we want to see.