Meeting Minutes from InspireSeattle Social on November 19, 2011

U.S. Immigration Policy:  The Unintended Consequences of Enforcement Policies


The US has an enormous backlog of deportation cases that grows larger by the day. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security deported nearly 400,000 people; its secretary, Janet Napolitano, recently promised to increase removal cases to “historic levels.” Few of us are aware that Tacoma has the fourth largest immigrant detention facility in the country.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement received more than $1.6 billion for removal and deportation in the last fiscal year. It can cost $23,000, by some estimates, to remove someone from the United States. Though it has assured Congress that it concentrates on those who pose a danger to public safety, the agency often deports immigrants guilty only of technical violation of the immigration laws.

Guest Speaker:  Betsy Tao.  Betsy has been working at Northwest Immigration Rights Project (NWIRP) since 2008. The attorneys at NWIRP’s Tacoma office represent detainees at the Northwest Detention Center, and also provide legal assistance to pro se litigants through the Legal Orientation Program. Prior to joining NWIRP, Betsy was a litigation associate at Perkins Coie and later Clifford Chance in Washington, DC.  She was also an Honors Program attorney with the Board of Immigration Appeals. Betsy graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 2002, and Yale University in 1998 with a degree in Comparative Literature. She is originally from Taipei, Taiwan, and became a U.S. citizen in 1998.



Previous meeting minutes


Previous IAN Events


Speaker: Betsy Tao


Thanks to Candy Sullivan for hosting!




Summary of talk:

·         Note that we are changing terminology from “illegal” to “undocumented” immigrants.

·         The Tacoma detainment facility is the only one in the Pacific Northwest and the fourth largest in the country, holding up to 1575 peoples. It is run by a private corporation also responsible for running prisons. Not surprisingly the detainment facility both looks and operates like a prison.

·         The average stay is 33 days but 30-40% of population will be detained there for 2 to 3 months. Some detainees remain in the facility over five years.

·         Twice a week flights take detainees to Mexico.

·         The cost of detaining an individual is $122 a day.

·         70-80% of detainees are ultimately deported

·         90% of detainees are men

·         60% of detainees are Mexican and another 10% are Central American

·         Immigration courts operate much like criminal courts using a prosecution vs. defense protocol yet 90% of detainees do not have an attorney. 


·         Who is being detained?

-      Visa overstays

-      Undocumented immigrants

-      Lawful green card holders who have committed a crime

-      US citizens who cannot articulate or prove they are US citizens.  (This includes those with “derived citizenship” who may have been born abroad but have a parent or grandparent who is a US citizen.)

-      Refugees

-      Asylum seekers


·         What obstacles face detainees?

-      No right to government funded counsel.  NWIRP is funded 50% by government and 50% by grants from legal foundations of Washington State.  It is the only institution that provides this service.  Four lawyers provide 4000 clients per year.

-      Separation from family and support.

-      Language barriers:  Detainees have a right to an interpreter but there can be delays in providing one or the interpreter my only act over the phone.

-      Lack of services:  e.g., no library, religious meetings, AA meetings.


·         What are the outcomes from detention?

-          Deportation (US pays for travel)

-          Voluntary departure (Mexico pays for travel)

-          Pay Bond

-          Paroled

-          Asylum


·         Why has detention has become a part of our immigration policy?

-          To ensure that individuals show up for court proceedings

-          To deter foreign nationals from coming into the US

-          As a quick fix for complex immigration policies

-          To deal with a huge number of immigrants


·         How have the costs of detention changed?

-          The cost of maintaining a border patrol

·         1992 = $326 million

·         2010 = $17 billion

-           The number of Southwest border agents

·         2003 = 3,555

·         2010 = 16,974

-          The number of undocumented immigrants

·         1990 = 3.5M

·         2008 = 11.9M

Thanks to all who participated and especially to Betsy Tao for providing an informative talk, engaging discussion and for filling in as speaker at the last minute.






Contact Us Copyright 2010 InspireSeattle ©