Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Adam Smith (WA-09), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Denny Heck (WA-10), and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Cuffari about the treatment of individuals at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). The letter comes after a troubling report was released by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights on the misuse of solitary confinement at the NWDC.

“For years, we have raised concerns about reports of inadequate health care, medical neglect, and the inhumane treatment of individuals detained at the NWDC,” wrote the members. “Due to the demonstrated lack of transparency, accountability, and decency documented in the Center for Human Rights report and past reviews conducted by your office, we request an immediate investigation into the recent allegations of violence against detained immigrants and a comprehensive review of the use of solitary confinement at the NWDC.”

“Solitary confinement is not the only pressing issue at the NWDC,” the members continued. “With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading to record levels, including in Pierce County, individuals in immigration detention centers remain extremely vulnerable to outbreaks. Several individuals detained at the NWDC are reportedly on hunger strikes in protest of inadequate policies and a lack of communication regarding the spread and prevention of COVID-19. In addition, our offices have been made aware of serious allegations of violence and abuse against detained immigrants in recent weeks. These recent allegations are even more alarming given the history of retaliation, the significant use of solitary confinement, and a lack of transparency at the NWDC.”

You can read the full letter here and below:

Dear Inspector General Cuffari:

We write to bring your attention to the human rights conditions at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. For years, we have raised concerns about reports of inadequate health care, medical neglect, and the inhumane treatment of individuals detained at the NWDC. Further, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and concern over potential spread at the NWDC has continued to exacerbate our need for communication regarding these reports.

On November 30, 2020, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights released a troubling report examining the considerable use of solitary confinement at the NWDC.[1] According to data provided by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the NWDC detains people in solitary confinement longer than any other ICE facility in the country. The report also found that 34 percent of solitary confinement placements between September 2013 and March 2020 were flagged to indicate the person had been previously diagnosed with a mental illness. The use of solitary confinement for individuals diagnosed with mental illness is contrary to international law and ICE’s own standards that the GEO Group purports to follow, and is seriously concerning. In addition, the report documents the use of solitary confinement as retaliation against individuals engaging in hunger strikes or speaking out against conditions at the NWDC.

The findings from the Center for Human Rights are consistent with a report issued by your office on June 3, 2019 highlighting the misuse of solitary confinement at several immigration detention centers around the country. The widespread misuse of solitary confinement at the NWDC was also raised with your office in a letter sent on October 23, 2019.[2] In July of this year, the Capping Report released by the OIG following an unannounced inspection of the NWDC in March 2019 found inappropriate segregation practices that “violate detention policies and standards, and infringe on detainee rights.”[3] In addition, it appears the investigation by your office into the tragic death of Mergansana Amar on November 24, 2018, who was kept in solitary confinement at the NWDC before his death, has yet to be completed, despite rising concerns regarding the safety and rights of  detained immigrants.

Solitary confinement is not the only pressing issue at the NWDC. With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading to record levels, including in Pierce County,[4] individuals in immigration detention centers remain extremely vulnerable to outbreaks. Several individuals detained at the NWDC are reportedly on hunger strikes in protest of inadequate policies and a lack of communication regarding the spread and prevention of COVID-19. In addition, our offices have been made aware of serious allegations of violence and abuse against detained immigrants in recent weeks. These recent allegations are even more alarming given the history of retaliation, the significant use of solitary confinement, and a lack of transparency at the NWDC. The OIG previously found that individuals detained at the NWDC have difficulties resolving problems through existing grievance and communications systems and identified a failure by staff at the NWDC to properly document grievance logs.[5]

Due to the demonstrated lack of transparency, accountability, and decency documented in the Center for Human Rights report and past reviews conducted by your office, we request an immediate investigation into the recent allegations of violence against detained immigrants and a comprehensive review of the use of solitary confinement at the NWDC.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released the following statement on the ongoing conflict in Tigray.

“The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ethiopia is extremely concerning. It is imperative that Prime Minister Abiy’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front reach a ceasefire in the near term and engage in dialogue to resolve the dispute peacefully. Tens of thousands of people have already been displaced from their homes, at least hundreds have died, and humanitarian access to the region has been nearly impossible. It is critical that all parties involved work with partners to immediately open humanitarian access to ensure food, water, and supplies can reach the region.

“Further military action is not the solution to this conflict, and I urge the United States to continue to press Prime Minister Abiy to participate in ongoing negotiation efforts led by the African Union. We must work with regional partners and all parties to de-escalate tensions, protect civilians, and open up access to humanitarian organizations. Without immediate de-escalation, the livelihoods of millions of people will be further jeopardized, and the conflict threatens to spiral into an even wider regional crisis.” 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) released the following statement after President-elect Biden announced appointments for key roles in national security and foreign policy.

“President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have started to assemble stellar and historic national security and foreign policy teams that are well respected both at home and abroad. These leaders with diverse backgrounds and decades of experience will without a doubt be ready to hit the ground running on day one.

“The incoming administration will undertake the monumental task of repairing the damage left behind from the Trump Administration, restoring America’s global leadership, and advancing a foreign policy that reflects our values and the interest of the American people. The nominees share the understanding that to address the challenges facing the world today, we must work with our allies and partners. From human rights to climate change and the refugee crisis, I am confident these nominees are prepared to help lead the U.S. on the many complex challenges we face.

“Congratulations to nominees Antony Blinken, Secretary of State; Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations; Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence; Former Secretary of State John Kerry, Special Envoy for Climate; and Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor. I look forward to working with these nominees to advance our shared interests here and around the world.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) released the following statement following House passage of the reauthorization of the National Apprenticeship Act which would invest in increasing access to Registered Apprenticeships (RAs), codify and streamline existing standards that are vital to support RAs, and invest and expand the successful RA model to youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.

“Our nation is in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the economic hardships and inequities impacting jobless workers and families are continuing to worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many out of work, now is the time to invest in Registered Apprenticeships – some of the most successful workforce training programs in the country – which provide paid, on-the-job learning opportunities and a pathway to quality, family-sustaining jobs.

“The National Apprenticeship Act would invest more than $3.5 billion over five years to create nearly 1 million additional apprenticeship opportunities in existing and emerging industry sectors. Expanding access to apprenticeships ensures more workers have a pathway to stable, lifelong careers and accelerates our nation’s economic recovery. Additionally, I successfully included an amendment that would enable pre-apprenticeship programs to offer stipends to pre-apprentices to assist with the financial costs of participating in these programs such as housing, childcare, transportation, and more. This financial assistance will ensure both pre-apprenticeship programs and apprenticeship programs are more widely accessible for those who may face financial hardship.

“While workers and families continue to struggle with economic hardships amidst the pandemic, we must do all we can to help people obtain the education and skills needed to succeed and get through this crisis, and help build an economic recovery for a better future.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) successfully included an amendment to the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020 that would allow pre-apprenticeship programs to use grant funds under the legislation to provide stipends for participants to cover certain out-of-pocket costs such as housing, transportation, and childcare.

“With persistent inequities in our society and a struggling economy further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must do more to help people obtain the education and skills they need to succeed,” said Rep. Adam Smith. “Rep. Langevin and I have heard from pre-apprenticeship programs in our districts that some of the biggest barriers people face entering and completing these programs are the costs to cover living expenses and fees associated with the programs themselves. This amendment would help pre-apprenticeship programs remove those barriers for students so they can obtain the initial credentials they need to enter an apprenticeship program and put them on a pathway to quality, high-paying jobs.”

“Pre-apprenticeship programs are valuable training opportunities that serve as the starting point of rewarding careers, and they are even more critical as we wrestle with the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Langevin, co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus. “I’m joining Chairman Smith to advance legislation to provide financial support for out-of-pocket costs for hard-working Americans participating in these programs because it will help them advance and help the nation meet the growing demand for highly skilled workers. This legislation underpins the ‘earn and learn’ approach that will prepare workers in areas ranging from advanced manufacturing to healthcare for success in a 21st century economy.”

This amendment that passed today was based on legislation recently introduced by Smith and Langevin, The Pre-Apprenticeship Wrap-around Support Services Fund Act of 2020. This legislation would establish a new grant program at the Department of Labor which would provide funding for pre-apprenticeship programs to use for direct support to pre-apprentices. Unlike most apprenticeship programs, pre-apprenticeship programs are usually unable to provide income support during the program. By allowing pre-apprenticeship programs to put grant funds towards stipends, it will help ensure equitable access and increased retention and completion of these programs.

Further, pre-apprenticeships will help students who have missed school time, especially those who have not been able to engage in in-person Career Technical Education (CTE) lab time, due to the pandemic. In an effort to prevent further spread of the virus, many facilities have had to close and thus limited access to hands-on experiences and training. Pre-apprenticeships will help bridge the knowledge gap and provide extra support to make up for lost learning time.

Text of the Amendment to H.R. 8294, the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020, can be found here and text of the Pre-Apprenticeship Wrap-around Support Services Fund Act of 2020 can be found here.

Statements of Support:

Karen Dove, Executive Director of ANEW:

“On average, each client needs about $1,000 of support service funding to be able to complete our 11-week training program. In return, they receive four industry recognized certificates, and are ready to enter apprenticeship with their driver’s license and GED or diploma. This funding is critical to ensure those who are most in need are able to complete the program and transition to a family wage career.”

Shoshana Wineburg, MSW, Director of Public Policy & Communications, YouthCare:

“YouthCare is thrilled to support Congressman Smith's Amendment to H.R. 8294 to provide stipends for young people engaged in pre-apprenticeship programs. YouthCare is one of the largest organizations in Washington State serving youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. We know that safe housing is key to stability, but access to education and employment are key to maintaining that stability over time. Pre-apprenticeships play a significant role in helping young people build employment skills and create pathways to careers. Unfortunately, those pathways are often derailed because of cost barriers associated with housing, transportation, or childcare—which is exactly why this amendment is so important and why we’re so excited to support it.”

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