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Gov. Inslee, AG Ferguson demand answers over imprisoned asylum seekers

The Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. (Sounder Bruce, Flickr)

UPDATE: Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson say they’re concerned about reports that at least 60 asylum-seeking mothers, separated from their children, are now being held at a federal prison in SeaTac.

The two Democrats sent a letter to the Trump administration Thursday night, seeking more information. They’re asking where the children of the women are and when they can expect to see their kids again.

Original story

Two women said they were brought to the federal detention center in SeaTac after they crossed the Texas-Mexico border with their children. They have been separated from their children and do not know where they are.

“We are pretty confident (the children) are still in the country …” said Jorge Baron, executive director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “The Office of Refugee Resettlement are in charge of children who are unaccompanied. But the children did not come on their own, they came with their mothers; we forcibly separated them from their mothers. They are now being held at these facilities, we understand, but we have no way of verifying that at this point.”

Northwest Immigration Rights Project staff estimate at least 60 additional women have been separated from their children and are also being held there.

Baron spoke with two mothers at the SeaTac who were removed from their daughters — ages 11 and 15. They were separated from their children because of a new policy put in place by the Trump Administration that processes children and adults differently when they cross the border illegally.

“This is unprecedented,” Baron said. “We haven’t had the situation with children separated on such a massive scale.”

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“There is now a national move to move asylum seekers who came to us on the border to seek protection, and they are being transferred to five different federal prisons, one of them being the SeaTac Federal Detention Center,” Baron said. “The number we are hearing now from ICE is that 209 people were transferred. We don’t know how many of them are mothers with children, but I can tell you we spoke to two mothers yesterday who are asylum seekers who are separated from their children at SeaTac.”

Asylum seeking mothers in SeaTac

Baron said that it is unclear how many parents are at the SeaTac location who have been separated from their children. He said that the two mothers he spoke to were asylum seekers, fleeing persecution in South American countries. Baron further argues that US law is set up to accommodate asylum seekers and that law is not being honored.

“One of the women I talked to yesterday was saying ‘I’m afraid for my life and I’m afraid for my daughter’ who had been threatened and they had concerns about sexual assault as a 15-year-old daughter, which is unfortunately a sad common reality in places like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras where many of these asylum seekers are coming from,” Baron said. “So, ‘what was my choice? I came to seek protection and now I’m being punished by having my children taken from me.’ We are really, as a country, doing something unconscionable.”

KUOW reports that the women are fleeing widespread gang violence in the countries Baron references.

“They are supposed to go through the asylum process and that takes time,” Baron said. “….Our law envisions that people are entitled to seek protection and asylum. The problem here is that we haven’t determined if people are eligible to claim asylum and we are punishing them before they have had a chance to seek asylum … many of them are fleeing persecution and are seeking protection here in our country.”

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