U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington State visited a federal detention center in her state this weekend and said the mothers she met “could not stop crying.”
“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,” Jayapal said in a statement issued after visiting the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.
Jayapal—a Democrat who represents most of Seattle—said she was able to visit the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac after “demanding access,” according to a video uploaded to her Twitter feed on Saturday.
The Federal Detention Center in SeaTac is a prison run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The prison is one of five federal prisons that recently started taking in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees awaiting immigration court hearings, including those who are seeking asylum.
The congresswoman said that out of the 206 immigrants in the facility, most were women seeking asylum. After speaking to some of the 174 women there, she found that more than a third of the women are mothers. The ages of the children taken from their mothers range in age from 1-year-old to teenagers, according to the statement. Jayapal also said the largest number of women were fleeing Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
“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,” Jayapal said in her statement.
In most cases those parents never got to say goodbye to their children, according to KUOW:
“In most cases, they were taken into a different room like, ‘Here we’re going take your photograph,’” said U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. “Then after the photo was taken, they were taken to a different room from their child. So they never got to say goodbye.”
They could hear their children screaming in the other room, Jayapal said.
“Screaming for their moms, asking for their moms. And they had to sit there and listen to that and still not be able to see them or hold them.”
Jayapal told the Washington Post that her visit to SeaTac “was absolutely heartbreaking,” even for someone like her, who has been doing immigration-rights work for almost 20 years.
Most of the women have been imprisoned at the SeaTac location for less than a week. The congresswoman said the women referred to the facilities run by the Border Patrol as “‘dog pounds,’ because of inhumane fenced cages, and the ‘ice box,’ because temperatures are frigid and detainees are given no blankets or mats.”
The Department of Homeland Security disputes to WaPo that detainees are held in “cages,” instead preferring to describe them as “chain-link fence enclosures.”
SeaTac is a location operated by the federal government. But the Department of Homeland Security locks up more than 70 percent of its detainees in privately run, for-profit facilities, according to NPR.
In the statement, Jayapal said: “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 [the Department of Homeland Security].”
In the video posted to Twitter shortly after visiting the SeaTac facility, Japayal said she was “going to do everything in my power to defund this rogue agency at the Department of Homeland Security.”
“What I saw today is simply not who, we, as a country should be,” she said in the statement. “This is cruel and inhumane treatment and we cannot allow it to continue on our watch.”