More than 200 people from Western Washington congregated Sunday afternoon at the Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats with a message they wanted to convey: “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”
The message had to be loud enough that the hundreds of immigrants detained at the federal facility could hear them through the windows and walls.
That chant was the first of many during the two-hour rally outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, operated by the for-profit GEO Group Inc., protesting the new executive order by President Donald Trump tightening immigration from several Muslim-majority nations.
“There’s nothing that deportation and detention can solve,” said Maru Mora Villalpando, a leader of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance who gave the event’s first speech — in both Spanish and English. The resistance group often protests at the center to raise awareness for the hundreds of undocumented migrants within its walls at any time.
Mora Villalpando encouraged the people attending the “No Walls, No Hate” rally to increase their involvement as Trump’s immigration policies become even more restrictive than his predecessor, Barack Obama — whose tenure saw more deportations than any other president.
“Fight with us. Be brave, be bold, don’t be afraid,” she said, “for we lost our fear long ago.”
Community activist Ximena Velazquez-Arenas, a San Francisco-born Seattleite with parents from Colombia and Mexico, started her speech with the same topic.
“I refuse to feel fear,” said Velazquez-Arenas, an organizer with the Neighborhood Action Coalition. “But I have felt immense sadness in recent months.”
Despite her birthright citizenship and dual nationality, despite her country of origin not being one affected by Trump’s executive order, she told the crowd an ACLU legal adviser told her even she could have difficulty returning to the United States were she to go abroad.
But, Velazquez-Arenas said, she’s no threat — she’s the daughter of diplomats. And the people targeted by Trump’s migration ban aren’t a threat either.
“We know our real threat to national security is coming from the Oval Office,” she said.
After the speeches, the group marched and chanted their way down East J Street, many of its members carrying a collection of pro-immigrant signs. Among them: “Make America immigrate again,” “May your presidency be short and your prison term be long,” “Contra toda autoridad excepto mi mamá,” (against every authority except my mom).
One of the people carrying signs down J Street was Jeff Snyder, 65.
The Olympia teacher journeyed north for the second straight day, he said. Saturday, he was one of dozens of people at the Tacoma immigration rally to join about 2,000 others in a protest of Trump’s policy at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Snyder can remember the exact day and place he became an activist: May 5, 1970, the day after the Kent State University shootings, when his Midwest college held a protest. Since then, he’s founded community organizations, participated in demonstrations and even taken his kayak out on the water as a form of protest.
Snyder said he, like every state teacher enrolled in the state retirement system, owns a portion of GEO Group. And that makes him uncomfortable.
“I wanted to come down here and make a statement about that, but I am also a supporter of getting the people out of this building altogether,” Snyder said.