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Inslee, AG seek answers after undocumented mothers separated from children, jailed in SeaTac

A US Customs and Border Protection agent cruises in his vehicle inside the Border Infrastructure System. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

SEATAC, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson say they’re concerned about reports that dozens of asylum-seeking mothers separated from their children after crossing the Southwest border are now being held at the federal detention center in SeaTac.

A local organization, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, says as many as 120 undocumented mothers have been separated from their children and transferred to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.

In a letter to the Trump administration, Inslee and Ferguson wrote they have “serious concerns about the Trump Administration’s treatment of these asylum seekers who are now here in Washington.”

“As the chief executive and chief law enforcement officers for the State, we ask that you immediately share with us information about these asylum-seekers, including:

“Where are their children and who is caring for them? Why are these women being held in prison while their asylum claims are resolved? Have they been given  information about their legal rights or access to attorneys, such as those from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project? When and where will these women be released? When can they expect to be reunited with their young children?”

The letter concludes, “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. We need to understand immediately what impacts this new policy is having on people here in our state.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Thursday that it was sending more than 1,600 detainees to federal prisons in Victorville, California; La Luna, Texas; Sheridan, Oregon; and SeaTac. The agency said it needs more space due to a “surge in illegal border crossings and implementation of the U.S. Department of Justice’s zero-tolerance policy” on illegal immigration.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project says it learned of the transfer from two asylum-seeking women:

“Initial reports demonstrate the group consists of many women who originally arrived with their children seeking asylum, but were then separated from their children by Border Patrol officials and prosecuted for unlawful entry, a federal misdemeanor. Despite completing their sentences, the mothers remain in federal detention while applying for asylum and separated from their children who are being held at separate government facilities.”

Prior to the transfer, the women were previously being held at facilities in Texas.

“The two women reported that approximately 60 other women in similar circumstances are currently being held in the same section of the Federal Detention Center,” the organization said in a statement. “Moreover, there are now reports of an additional group of 60 asylum seekers being held in a separate section of the FDC at SeaTac.  NWIRP staff is actively working to reach as many of them as possible to provide legal assistance.”

ICE officials did not directly confirm the report, but said they are enforcing the Justice Department’s zero-tolerance policy against illegal border crossings.

“Due to the current surge in illegal border crossings and implementation of the U.S. Department of Justice’s zero-tolerance policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is working to meet the demand for additional immigration detention space, both long and short term.  To meet this need, ICE is collaborating with the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), private detention facility operators and local government agencies.”

The official also said ICE has needed to find more space for detained asylum seekers.

“To meet the immediate need, ICE has entered into inter-agency agreements with BOP to acquire access to more than 1,600 additional beds at BOP facilities. The use of BOP facilities is intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides,” ICE officials said in a statement.

“ICE continues to enforce immigration laws consistent with the Administration’s directives and the law.  This includes ensuring sufficient detention space to hold aliens prior to removal or adjudication by an immigration judge.”

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project condemned the move.

“The tragedy that is the Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from their parents is now taking place in our state,” said Jorge L. Baron, executive director of NWIRP. “We now have women detained in our community who have had their children forcibly taken from them simply because they sought to protect them. We call on the Administration to reunite these parents with their children and to stop this inhumane policy.”