The Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, where immigration lawyers say asylum seekers are being held.
The Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, where immigration lawyers say asylum seekers are being held. federal bureau of prisons

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With news that hundreds of detained immigrants, including mothers separated from their children, may be held in a federal prison in Washington State, local leaders are questioning the detainment and activists are planning a protest.

Immigration activists said Thursday they have spoken to several women who arrived at the U.S. border seeking asylum and were then transferred to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. In total, staff at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project believe there are 120 people at the facility who were recently transferred there from the southern border. Three women reached by the group this week had all been separated from their children at the border. The women did not know where their children were. The NWIRP believes the detainees are from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

As part of a “no tolerance” policy, the Trump administration has separated adult immigrants from their children and has begun holding asylum seekers in prison rather than releasing them while they navigate the legal process. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is seeking more space to handle detainees under the policy. ICE confirmed it will have access to 209 beds at the SeaTac facility but a spokesperson would not say how many detainees have been transferred there. In total, ICE is contracting with federal prisons to access more than 1,600 additional beds due to an increase in arrests at the border and the “no tolerance” policy, the spokesperson said.

In response to the news that detainees have arrived at SeaTac, immigration activists plan a solidarity rally for Saturday at 1:30 pm.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson are seeking more information about the women and their children.

In a letter to officials at ICE and the SeaTac Federal Detention Center as well as Annette Hayes, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Inslee and Ferguson write that they have "serious concerns about the Trump Administration's treatment of these asylum seekers."

The letter asks where the children are and who is caring for them. It also asks why the women are being held in prison, when they will be released, when they will see their children again, and whether they've been given information about their rights.

“The Trump Administration's new family separation policy is inflicting intentional, gratuitous, and permanent trauma on young children who have done nothing wrong and on parents who often have valid claims for refugee or asylum status,” Inslee and Ferguson write. “We need to understand immediately what impacts this new policy is having on people here in our state.”

Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal also decried the adminsitration's decision to house asylum seekers in federal prisons, calling it "unethical, ineffective, and inhumane.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed onto a letter from mayors from across the country about the administration’s immigration policies. She also plans to introduce a resolution during this weekend’s U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting to condemn the separation of families.

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About two dozen officials signed the letter, including Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The letter, addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, cites New York Times reporting that DHS separated more than 700 children from their parents between October and April.

“Separating children from their families in this manner is an insult to American family values,” the letter reads. “Many of these families are fleeing violence in their home countries, and it is inhumane to punish them for seeking safety and invoking their right to seek asylum in the US.”

The policies also “fuel the climate of hostility experienced by many immigrants and refugees residing here, which causes many to feel alienated and avoid contact with government agencies,” the letter says. “As mayors, we are deeply troubled by the culture of fear perpetuated by the federal government that discourages immigrants from contacting local police and other public agencies.”

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