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Jayapal Goes Inside Federal Detention Center to Meet With Asylum-Seeking Women: “The mothers could not stop crying”

SEATTLE – Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, member of the House Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement after demanding and being given access to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Washington to look at conditions and speak with 174 immigrant women detained inside:

What I heard from the women today being held at the detention center was heartbreaking. They are there only because of the Trump administration’s cruel new ‘zero tolerance’ policies of family separation. They spoke of fleeing threats of rape, gang violence and political persecution. They spoke of their children who have been killed by gangs and their fear of being raped. The mothers could not stop crying when they spoke about their children – young girls and boys who were taken from them with no chance to say goodbye and no plan for reunification.

“Of the 206 immigrants being held there, 174 are women. I spent almost three hours meeting with the women, almost all of whom are asylum seekers. They come from 16 different countries with the largest numbers from Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Over a third of the women were mothers who had been forcibly separated from their children, who range in age from 1-year-old to teenagers. The vast majority of the mothers have not spoken with their children in weeks and they have no idea where they are. Most have been held in detention for more than two weeks and many for over a month.

“They should not be held in federal prison, but the women I spoke to said SeaTac is the first place they feel they’ve been treated as human beings – thanks to the standards in place at government-owned and operated facilities, rather than the privately contracted facilities of DHS.  

“The women talked of being held in Border Patrol facilities that they termed the ‘dog pound,’ because of inhumane fenced cages, and the ‘ice box,’ because temperatures are frigid and detainees are given no blankets or mats. They also spoke of lack of access to food and water, and said they suffered humiliation and verbal abuse from border agents who called them ‘filthy’ and ‘stinky,’ and told them that their ‘families would not exist anymore’ and that they would “never see their children again.’  

“Also extremely troubling were the accounts of mass prosecutions, where individuals were processed through the court system in groups of up to 100 at a time with no ability to speak individually to a judge.

“I call on the Trump administration to release all of these individuals immediately, to give them access to attorneys to quickly process their asylum claims, and for them to be immediately reunited with their children. It is outrageous that Department of Homeland Security is violating human rights and our international legal obligations under human rights law to swiftly and humanely process asylum seekers. I will also continue to push to defund ICE, to completely reform the immigration detention system and end mass prosecutions by the Department of Justice, and defund any Department of Homeland Security programs that break up families.

“What I saw today is simply not who, we, as a country should be. This is cruel and inhumane treatment and we cannot allow it to continue on our watch.”