On June 9, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., spent several hours meeting with detainees at a federal immigration facility near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Most of the detainees - 174 of 206 - were women. Many are fleeing violence and deprivation in their home countries; they are seeking asylum in accordance with U.S. and international law.
In an interview with The Washington Post and a video posted on social media, Jayapal said the women described being held in cages (they called it the “dog pound”) and frigid rooms (the “ice box”) without blankets or sleeping mats. They were allegedly denied clean water and subjected to verbal abuse. One woman reported being hit twice in the face by an agent.
Most horrifically, more than half of women said they’d been forcibly separated from their children; some heard them “screaming” from another room. After the separation, most had no idea where their children were. According to Jayapal, “One woman said, ’I want to be with my children,’ and the Border Patrol agent said: ’You will never see your children again. Families don’t exist here. You won’t have a family anymore.’ “
In another case in Texas, an asylum seeker from Honduras says a border agent snatched her infant baby away from her while she was breastfeeding.
This is what we have come to as a nation under President Donald Trump. An immigration policy that makes cruelty not a collateral side effect but a deliberate goal.
In the first two weeks in May after the Trump administration announced its “zero tolerance” policy toward arriving immigrants, a federal immigration official told Congress that 658 children were separated from their parents, driving the total since October past 1,300. A United Nations official has decried this practice as “unlawful interference in family life” and “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”
And now, as existing child shelters are filling to capacity, Franco Ordonez of the McClatchy Washington Bureau reports, the administration is looking to build tent cities in Texas to house the growing number of immigrant children being held in detention. A researcher for the international group Human Rights Watch called this prospect “horrifying.”
But it’s fully in keeping with Trump’s stance toward immigrants. His decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects immigrants brought to this country as children, caused trauma for hundreds of thousands of people he professes to “love.” He regularly warns darkly - and falsely - about “illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.”
Under Trump, immigration authorities are now transferring adult detainees awaiting immigration hearings into federal prisons.
“They are trying to punish people for lawfully going through the immigration process,” said Michael Kaufman, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “They’re saying they’re going to keep more and more people locked up, even if there isn’t a reason to do so, while they go through the immigration process.”
Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington, described what the Trump administration is doing in his state as “cruelty to children.” In America, he said, “the willful infliction of trauma against children is not acceptable. America is better than this. Inhumane, callous indifference and willful injury to children must stop.”
But it won’t stop unless we demand it. We must make clear that we are better people than our president, and will not tolerate his degradation of American values. We must find better ways to respond to the challenges of immigration than ripping children from their parents and putting them in prison camps.
Bill Lueders is managing editor of The Progressive. This column was produced by the Progressive media project and distributed by Tribune News Service.