The dozens of moms jailed in SeaTac didn’t realize what was happening when they were torn from their children.
“In most cases, they were taken into a different room like, ‘Here we’re going take your photograph,’” said U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. “Then after the photo was taken, they were taken to a different room from their child. So they never got to say goodbye.”
They could hear their children screaming in the other room, Jayapal said.
“Screaming for their moms, asking for their moms. And they had to sit there and listen to that and still not be able to see them or hold them.”
Jayapal was able meet with some of the 177 women detained inside the jail. She said she was the first person to meet with many of these women; a few have also met with attorneys from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
“Unless they ask for an attorney, they don’t get given one,” she said.
Jayapal said about half of the women had their children taken away. These women were waiting at the border to seek asylum when they were separated from their children.
Jorge Baron, the executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said he was also able to meet with women who had turned themselves in to Border Patrol seeking protection.
Two mothers were separated from their daughters, ages 11 and 15.
"They told me about walking into this room and at some point the officials said, you mother go this way and daughter you go the other way – and no warning that they were about to be separated, no chance to say goodbye," Baron said. "That was the last time these mothers had seen their daughters, about four weeks ago."
Baron said no one had explained to the women what would happen to them during the process and his organization is trying to provide legal assistance to as many people as they can.
“We are hopeful that we'll be able to get some of those people released so that they can be reunified with their children. But I have to be honest and say that right now it's looking pretty daunting given the circumstances that these women are facing," he said.
On Saturday, protesters and lawmakers gathered at the prison. Gov. Jay Inslee condemned the treatment of the detainees. Inslee was joined by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Jayapal.
Jayapal says they described the conditions of the federal prison including freezing cold jail cells and having to go many days without being allowed to bathe.
These women have been imprisoned in SeaTac less than a week but have been in custody for more than a month.
The ages of the children taken from their mothers range from 3 to 16 years old. Most of the children are not in Washington state.
ICE says the children are in the care of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.