One woman fled El Salvador after gang members fatally shot her child. Another woman feared her husband would rape her child.
Rep. Pramila Jaypal teared up as she spoke about the 206 undocumented immigrants held inside a federal prison in SeaTac.
The Seattle congresswoman had recently finished a tour of the facility, where she said she visited with all the undocumented women inside. Jayapal did not have a chance to speak with the 32 migrant men held in the prison.
"I hugged as many of them as I could because I just want them to know that we know they are human beings who are seeking safety and security," Jayapal said. "It was heartbreaking.”
The Trump administration recently transferred the immigrants to the SeaTac prison, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement confirmed this week. Most of the immigrants, about 90 percent by Jayapal’s estimate, are seeking political asylum. Many of them are women who were involuntarily separated from their children at border detention facilities.
"What's heartbreaking is they were not given any chance to say goodbye to their children to explain what was happening,” Jayapal said. "Most of them don't know where their children are.”
She said most of the women, based on a hand count, have been in federal custody for more than a month.
The United Nations has called on the United States to stop separating children from their parents as they cross the border, a new policy under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to immigration enforcement.
Most of the immigrants held in the SeaTac detention center arrived from Central American countries, including 40 from El Salvador, 36 from Guatemala and 53 from Honduras. Thirty-nine of the detainees arrived from Cuba. There are also contingents from Brazil, China, Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Eritrea, Guinea, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka and Venezuela.
Jayapal said some of the women told her that their treatment at SeaTac has been a vast improvement upon conditions at detention cities along the border.
At those jails, "They were called animals, filthy, disgusting. One woman was hit twice by one of the agents,” Jayapal said. "Some of them not given food. They were not able to take showers when they were in the facilities along the border."
The congresswoman added that her office is in the process of getting the names of all the detainees inside the prison to put them in touch with immigration lawyers, who say they don’t have easy access to the SeaTac detention center.
Before describing her experience at the detention center to reporters, she spoke at a press conference outside the prison with Governor Jay Inslee, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine and several members of Congress.
Hundreds of protestors gathered outside the prison for a rally.