Seattle’s Ellis Island

Check out this radio spot on KUOW/NPR about Seattle’s “Ellis Island”…a building on the edge of Chinatown/International District that was an immigrant detention center from 1931 to 1999. While in operation — and mostly unnoticed by the average passerby —  it was used as a holding station for Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Central American, and other immigrants, who were held indefinitely in deplorable conditions.

Many Uch at the Airport Way Detention Facility. Photo by Eroyn Franklin

The piece includes interviews with federal public defender and former Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) attorney Jay Stansell, who has represented Cambodian Americans in the Seattle area under threat of deportation, and gave one of the most powerful guest lectures of my undergrad experience.

Cambodian American Many Uch also talks about his own experience in the detention center. Uch was featured in the documentary Sentenced Home — about the struggle of families in Seattle to stay together under post-9/11 draconian immigration laws that deported individuals to Cambodia for crimes they had committed as teens and already served time for.

But just because this particular facility has closed down, doesn’t mean the inhumane treatment of immigrants in detenion centers has come to an end. The overcrowded Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA has been cited for its numerous human rights and constitutional violations, from denial of emergency healthcare, to insufficient food, to physical and verbal abuse of detainees.  And there are over 400 hundred similar detention facilities across the country today, which have little transparency and accountability for humane standards.

Maybe this seems too awful to believe or disconnected from your day-to-day experience, but the consequences of the US’ messed up immigration system ultimately affects us all, immigrant or not. To borrow from the NWIRP: “Immigrant Rights Are Human Rights”.  Learn more about the immigrant detention crisis and take action by visiting Detention Watch Network.


3 thoughts on “Seattle’s Ellis Island

  1. Hey! Thanks so much for bringing attention to what’s going on! If you’re still in Seattle (or the next time you’re around), NWIRP would love to meet you and welcome you to our office for a tour… In the meantime, keep up the great work!


  2. Thanks Koriel – I’m glad you liked the post. The offer is much appreciated, and I just may take you up on it next time I’m in town! And so many thanks to you and NWIRP for the tireless advocacy you do for our communities. Keep fightin!


  3. We’d love you to! Please let us know when you’ll be in town- we look forward to meeting you. We’re so grateful for your support and outrage at what’s going on. Your work to educate is so valuable. Thanks too for your kind words about our advocacy. We couldn’t do it without supporters like you!


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