Five hundred or so Haitian immigrants are currently being held at detention facilities in Tacoma and Yakima, according to attorneys with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.
The detainees are mostly young men who left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, spent a few years on work permits in Brazil, then recently migrated to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek humanitarian relief.
Many came because of a U.S. program that granted work permits to some Haitians after the 2010 earthquake. But newly arrived immigrants do not qualify.
Still, more than 5,000 Haitians have arrived at the U.S. border the past year — a 500 percent increase over the previous year, according to NPR.
Jorge Baron, executive director of the immigrant rights project, said immigration officials transferred some Haitians to Washington state because border facilities are full. The Yakima group arrived in October, and Baron said it took more than a month for them to receive legal help.
"They're concerned that this has been kind of hidden," Baron said. "They're concerned that they've been moved to this area and forgotten."
In November, immigration officials confirmed the number of people in detention was 20 to 30 percent higher than usual, with about 41,000 people detained across the country. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security is looking for extra bed space in places like Yakima.