OLYMPIA – The state House of Representatives voted 85-12 on a bill that would ban the expansion of an Immigration Customs Enforcement detention center in Tacoma.
House Bill 2640 asserts that the privately owned building, used to detain individuals and hold them in custody under the process of law, is not an “essential” public facility and therefore not included under the Growth Management Act.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, said this bill is about local government authority as it relates to land use.
Steve Victor, deputy city attorney for Tacoma, testified to the House Environment & Energy Committee in favor of the bill. Victor said the detention center is poorly located in a busy maritime port district and is also in a seismic zone next to hazardous material production facilities.
Fey said the facility “is of substantial consequence to the city to be able to provide public safety services” due to the limited access of its location.
Joan Mell, attorney for GEO Group, which owns the building and holds a contract with ICE to detain people in the facility, testified against the bill on the basis that it may have unintended consequences.
Mell said this kind of land-use matter is typically directed to the judicial process structured by the Growth Management Act. She said this would be the first time a legislative body tried to assert that a facility is non-essential to the public.
Victor said the Growth Management Act has historically extended protections to facilities deemed essential to the public such as airports, solid waste facilities, mental health facilities and parks, but never a privately owned detention center.
If passed, the bill would not stop the current functions of the ICE facility, but it would stop any growth or expansion of the building capacity.
Victor said the current capacity of the building is around 1,600 people.
The bill’s companion is currently moving through the Senate.
Cameron Sheppard is a reporter with the WNPA News Service.