SEATTLE – Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, member of the House Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement after returning to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Washington to speak to more than one hundred women and 26 men still held there, following an initial visit on June 9, when she was the first member of Congress to speak with women who had been separated from their children:
“Two weeks ago, I visited 174 women who were transferred from the Texas border to this federal prison in SeaTac. Today, I returned to speak to the men who were held there with whom I had not had a chance to speak last time. I also went back to see many of the women who I had met with two weeks ago. After hearing even more of their stories, I am crystal clear that our call to action for our mass mobilization on June 30 must still be for Donald Trump to end his cruel and inhumane zero tolerance policy. We simply cannot allow this to continue.
“I spoke with all of the 26 men who were still at the prison. They came from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico. Almost all of them were seeking asylum and escaping terrible violence and persecution. Over half had been in various prisons and facilities for more than a month, and the vast majority still had not had credible fear hearings.
“I was told that six men from the group had been transferred to another immigration detention facility just days before my visit, and that all of them were fathers. Unfortunately, I was not able to get their stories. Two of the men who I met with had also come with children, including one with a 3-year-old son in his arms who said Border Patrol agents pushed him and blocked him from entering at a legal port of entry – even when he told them he was seeking asylum – and so he had to cross at the river.
“Like the women I had met with, these men also broke down and wept, sometimes so emotional that they could not finish their stories. One man, who had worked at a bank in Honduras and had a college degree, described police pressuring him to turn over private financial information and when he refused, they attacked him with a machete. He had visible scars on his neck and showed me his thumb, which had been partially sliced off. He tried to report the crime but nothing happened. When he was ‘left for dead,’ he managed to flee to the United States. Another man repeatedly broke down as he described witnessing the rape of his 14-year old sister.
“One of the men asked me why they were being treated like criminals when they had come seeking asylum. I told them about Trump’s zero tolerance policy. When I asked if this cruel treatment they were receiving would stop people from trying to come to America, they all said no. Because they were facing such hopelessness and death, people would continue to come.
“Donald Trump wants Americans to believe that these are all criminals and gang members crossing the border, but these are survivors of crime and violence – not perpetrators. These are men seeking security and safety from terrible horrors that we cannot even imagine, and trying to bring their families to safety.
“I also went back to meet again with two groups of women that I had met before. I heard more stories from a young woman who had been raped when she was just 9-years-old, and another woman from El Salvador who was terrified that her young daughter was being deported back to her abusive father in El Salvador.
“The women told me they have seen me on TV telling their stories and they begged us to keep fighting for them. One woman who is fleeing political persecution in Cuba said, ‘Watching the news, we still believe we are being embraced by Americans and we have hope for freedom.’
“When I told the men and the women about the mass mobilization we are organizing on June 30, they were so happy. They cheered and cried when they heard that to date, over 350,000 people in 350 events in every state of the country have signed up to take to the streets to demand an end to the zero-tolerance policy, to demand their release and their reunification with their children.
“I will continue to push for broader reforms, including stopping funding for family separation, defunding ICE, ending mass prosecutions by DOJ, and completely reforming the immigration detention system. HR 3923, the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act with Rep. Adam Smith, now has almost 100 co-sponsors and was just introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker.
“Let’s stand up for America. As we have seen, the American people will not stand for this cruelty being committed in their names.”