Bill Lloyd near his home overlooking Von Geldern Cove. Old timers call it Joe’s Bay. Photo: Ed Johnson, KP News

It’s a natural fit. From an early life filled with languages and world travel, Home resident Bill Lloyd now volunteers with Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest (AIDNW) at its Welcome Center, helping immigrants find their way after release from the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center (NWDC).

AIDNW was established in 2005 soon after NWDC was built. Originally housing 500 detainees, NWDC now has more than 1,500 beds and is one of the largest detention centers in the country. The Welcome Center, where Lloyd volunteers, is just one of the services offered—with volunteers providing newly released detainees phone access to call family or friends, warm clothing, backpacks and document bags to carry their belongings, snacks and soft drinks. They also assist with arranging travel or safe housing for those who are not traveling on. 

Detainees are picked up at the border or elsewhere by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are sent to detention centers anywhere in the country, Lloyd said. They are held for an average of a few months. They may be sent back to their home country or may be allowed to stay for consideration of asylum. But when they are released, they have almost nothing, not even shoelaces.

“If the Welcome Center were not there, what would they do?” Lloyd said. “They often have no idea where they are. They may think Washington means Washington, D.C. and that Virginia is right next door.” 

Although the detainees come from all over, most are from Central America. Interpreters are available through phone services, but Lloyd’s fluent Spanish and French comes in handy. 

He has always loved languages, starting with Latin at the Mass he attended as a kid growing up in Othello. He loved Spanish in high school and continued to study Spanish as well as French and German in college. His college career, which spanned more than two decades and several colleges, was interrupted by a need to work to pay for school and by four years of Navy service during the Vietnam War. “I was a jack of all trades,” he said. He logged, milked dairy cows and worked with a county road department. Soon after he and his wife Lynn met, they decided to spend six months traveling around the world. 

Lloyd’s first job was teaching high school Spanish in a small farming community in Montana in 1990. “I was in a town of 200 people. The kids lived on ranches which they didn’t measure in acres, they measured in sections. The students didn’t think they had much use for education, and certainly not in Spanish. My first year of teaching was pretty horrible, and during that year I was applying for jobs everywhere. I subscribed to a paper, the International Educator, and saw an ad for a teacher in Guatemala. I sent my resume, got a phone call and was hired after a phone interview.”

Lloyd, with Lynn and their third- and fourth-grade daughters, spent the next year teaching in Central America. “In Guatemala, Spanish is a second language. Their primary languages are Mayan dialects, so it was really refreshing to hear textbook Spanish.” 

The family then moved to Cashmere where Lloyd was an ESL teacher for the next 13 years. Once their daughters were grown, Lynn went back to school for a teacher certification and the couple taught overseas. They spent two years in Kazakhstan and then two years in Libya. They left in 2010, shortly before the Arab Spring. Lloyd said they did not feel endangered during their stay in Libya but, “We watched all our colleagues climb onto the ferry to evacuate on CNN.” 

While overseas, the Lloyds began looking for a retirement location. They knew they wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest and they wanted to live on the water. They found places on creeks and lakes, but when they saw an ad for a place in Home they knew it was just what they were looking for. They moved here in 2011 and didn’t know a soul. 

They joined the Longbranch Improvement Club, began to volunteer at The Mustard Seed Project, joined the Key Singers choir and got to know their neighbors. “We had a network in no time,” Lloyd said. 

For more information on AIDNW, go to nwaid.org. For more information on federal immigrant policy and local issues, a meeting sponsored by the League of Women Voters, AIDNW and others is scheduled Jan. 5 from 10 a.m. to noon at First Methodist Church, 621 Tacoma Avenue South in Tacoma.

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