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UWCHR Joins Press Conference Following Release of Videos Documenting Use of Chemical Agents at the NWDC

Photo Credit: Grace Deng

February 2, 2024

New video footage released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows the moments leading up to, and directly following, a February 1, 2023 incident involving the use of chemical agents by GEO Group guards on detained people participating in a hunger strike inside the Northwest Detention Center. This footage was released following a lawsuit by the immigrant rights organization Northwest Immigrant Rights Project against ICE for failure to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements. In response to the new footage, the grassroots immigrant-led organization La Resistencia held a press conference outside the Seattle ICE offices on Thursday, February 1st, the one year anniversary of the incident. UW Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) director Angelina Snodgrass Godoy joined the press conference as a speaker.


Watch the released video here.


“The videos that were released about the incident one year ago today show people were starting to come together to denounce living conditions inside, and instead of a response being given to them in a peaceful manner in which it was sought, they were gassed,” said Professor Godoy. “The problem is not the conduct of those who are forced to inhabit those walls. The problem is the place itself.” UWCHR’s 2023 report, “Cycles of Cruelty: Uses of force and chemical agents at the NWDC,” documents a pattern of use of force incidents inside the facility.

UWCHR director Angelina Godoy shares about the Center’s research into uses of force and chemical agents at the Northwest Detention Center during a press conference in front of Seattle ICE offices.

Two people who survived the use of chemical agents in the Northwest Detention Center shared their stories and experiences. One man reported, “My lungs have suffered such damage from the gas that I now have to use an inhaler, which I didn’t have to before. My doctor couldn’t believe that I didn’t die in detention. He said several times while I was in critical care, that if I was detained for another two weeks, I would be dead right now.” 

According to our Center’s research, this man is not alone in experiencing abuse and neglect at the NWDC. Since 2017 UWCHR has sought, in partnership with organizations including La Resistencia and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, to obtain information about conditions of detention in public and private detention facilities where immigrants are housed in Washington state. We’ve documented our findings in a multi-part report series on Conditions at the Northwest Detention Center, coving topics such as sanitation of food and laundry, allegations of medical neglect, use of solitary confinement, COVID-19 and health standards, reporting of sexual assault and abuse, uses of force and chemical agents, and compliance with cleanliness standards

UW undergraduate student researcher Emily Huynh shared the timeline of the day’s events on February 1, 2023 and. “According to ICE records obtained by the UW Center for Human Rights, at 3:49 pm, and then again at 3:55 pm, GEO officers warned the men that gas will be used, and then deployed the gas–pepper spray. The video of this portion is still being withheld so we have no way to confirm if this was done according to policy […] Based on what we’ve seen so far, we have two fundamental questions: Why did you [GEO and ICE] escalate a protest of living conditions into an attack using chemical agents? […] Our second question is, why is ICE continuing to hide what happened?”

“We want our congressional delegation to get involved immediately and obtain all the videos, audio, records, documents, et cetera, and give us a congressional hearing. We want them to intervene. We want them to begin an investigation of the gassing of units in the detention center. We want them to give us a congressional hearing in regards to all the conditions of the detention center and also the fact that GEO Group does not permit our Washington state agencies and departments to go in and inspect. They’re not above the law,” stated La Resistencia organizer Maru Mora Villalpando, referencing the refusal of GEO and ICE to allow state inspectors to enter the facility in late 2023, as required by state law.

UWCHR will continue to monitor the facility and will share our findings through the Conditions at the NWDC report series.