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Pramila Jayapal Visits Texas Border

Pramilia Jayapal Pramila Jayapal

July 24, 2018 - 12:53 am

Immigrants at the southern US border are facing unprecedented obstacles and are being separated from their children.  On July 20, 2018, Jayapal co-led a group of eight U.S. Congress members to the U.S. border in Texas, where they watched a mass criminal prosecution of immigrants in a federal court and witnessed immigrant parents being reunited with their children.   Jayapal shares what she saw in Texas with KBCS’s Yuko Kodama.

Producers Yuko Kodama and Ruth Bly

Photo by Joe Mabel

91.3 KBCS music and ideas listener supported radio from Bellevue College.

On Friday, US representative for Washington’s seventh district, Pramila Jayapal, co-led a group of eight US Congress members to the US border in Texas. They went to find out what was happening with immigrant family separations. They watched a mass prosecution in a federal court. They spoke with a federal public defender about what they’re seeing. They talked with released reunited families at a shelter, and they witnessed families being reunited. Jayapal shares with 91.3s Yuko Kodama over the phone about what she saw and what the situation is.

It’s just been intense, heartbreaking, deeply, deeply distressing that our government is doing really what I can’t describe in any other way except sanctioned child abuse to separate these families. We went into the place where we saw kids in cages, still, families, still separated moms, who when they finally talked to their children, their children told them that the government agents had told the children that their mothers had abandoned them. And watching this one little boy and his mother as they recounted the story to us in tears, can you imagine being told that your mother has abandoned you and this, this little boy didn’t want to talk to his mother when she was finally able to talk to him. But these moms have not seen their kids in, sometimes, in two months. It’s outrageous. By the way, it validates everything that I heard when I went over a month ago to the C TAC federal prison as the first member of Congress to talk to these folks, the stories are exactly the same: deception, not being able to say goodbye to their children, in some cases, hearing their children crying near them, but not being able to go to them. Then in these detention facilities and processing centers, where they’re still being separated, they’re being allowed to talk to their children for one hour a day. The children are in a different part of the facility and they’re still being kept away from their parents. We also heard about, you know, the terrible things that border patrol agents and ICE agents, I’m not sure exactly which one, said to these parents and to the children, things like, “Your mother has abandoned you, you will never see your parents again, the reason we are separating you is because you came as families, we want to send a message,” I mean, all kinds of things like that, “This is new policy. Now. That’s why we’re doing this to you.” So all of those things were said and I think there were a lot of people who described those exact same horrendous conditions and treatment. We did hear from some people as well that some of them said, you know, that they have been treated well. So I don’t think that you could say that every single person was treated badly, but certainly there are a lot of examples of verbal abuse, and you know, horrendous conditions.

In order to process asylum status, you have to have arrived in the United States. Correct?

You request asylum when you come to the United States. So refugees are processed outside, but asylum seekers are processed when they get to the country. So when you come to the country, anywhere in the country, you can say that you’re seeking asylum and by our international human rights conventions that we’re signatories to, and also by our own constitutional rights, people are supposed to be given a credible fear hearing. And that should really be the first thing that they get when they say they’re seeking asylum. That is not what’s happening. They’re being criminally prosecuted instead, for illegal entry, and then maybe if they’re lucky, they get connected up with immigration attorneys, who can then try to get them credible fear hearings. That’s like the Northwest Immigrant Rights projects in our area. But here, we’re out very far and it’s very difficult for individuals to seek legal counsel to get legal counsel, and once they’re in a detention facility, even harder for them to get that legal counsel. So lot of problems and then the kids are being shipped and the parents are being shipped all over. In fact, we just heard that there were some parents from the federal prison and our Northwest Detention Center, one or the other, that are in fact being told that they’re going to be shipped here to Port Isabel to be reunified with their families. So parents are coming from all over, children are coming from all over. It is chaos, and it is a mess. And it is a humanitarian crisis that has been created by this administration.

So this has not been done before where people were criminally convicted, right? They were detained in immigrant detention centers, but now they’re being criminally prosecuted.

The majority of families that came across were seeking asylum and instead of getting a credible fear hearing, they are refered to court, criminal court, to be prosecuted for the crime of illegal entry, and what that means is many of them, as the Federal Public Defender told us today, that is now going to potentially be a problem, because they now have a criminal record, they have a crime on their records, as they apply for asylum. So there’s a lot of fear about how this will affect their very legitimate asylum claim. So these individuals also have told us that they tried to come in through a legal port of entry, and they were physically blocked. The Federal Public Defenders talked to us about how they were actually stationing Mexican border patrol agents right in the center of the bridge on the Mexican side, and then asking people to produce their papers. And then if they didn’t have Mexican papers, then it’s essentially being pushed off to the Mexican government to take those people in and deport them. So they’re not even making it, in some cases, to that line of the US border. If they do. Some of them talked about US border patrol agents, blocking them physically, so that they would then end up having to go and cross the river at a different point. So many of them are trying to do the right thing, come in through the legal ports of entry and are being blocked. And then even if they come across the river, between ports of entry, there is nothing illegal about coming to seek asylum, you can seek asylum from anywhere. And these families, the majority of the families are seeking asylum from horrendous conditions of torture and violence in their home countries, primarily Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. The deputy chief of the Border Patrol facility that we went to, even said to me, “yes, a tiny, tiny, tiny, we’re talking less than 1% of all the families that we see, have any kind of criminal history.” So the idea that these are criminals, and that they’re somehow coming in to do harm, they are actually trying to escape gangs and torture and violence.

If the Trump administration’s intent with this is to deter people, I mean, are you hearing from people that this is a deterrence? Or?

No, because I don’t think it’s going to be a deterrent, because first of all, it’s illegal for the Trump administration to detain people for deterrence, and you can see that some lawyer must have told them that because they’re backing off that statement, but it’s on the record from John Kelly, from Jeff Sessions, from many others, agents have said to some of these individuals, that this is for deterrence, but it’s not going to work because these individuals are fleeing torture and violence and potential death. And so the stories that they told us are not just about “well, I think I’ll take a jaunt to cross the border for the heck of it, because I think life is better there,” It is, “I fear for my life, I will watched my nephew get shot in front of me and I didn’t want my son to be shot, I was attacked with a machete 13 times by gangs, my son was being recruited to MS13. And I didn’t want him to be recruited. So I had to take him away.” These are life and death situations. And so this kind of deterrents, essentially, they’re trading being in potentially indefinite detention, being separated from their children, because they fear death. And I think it’s very important for people to understand this is not an effective strategy and it is absolutely an inhumane and cruel strategy.

The deadlines, the one that already passed for the children under five and then the one that’s coming up July 26, for 2000 to 3000, older children, 5 to 17. One deadline has passed, and only you know, about half of the kids have been reunited, and then the one coming up for thousands of children. What happens if the deadlines are not met?

Well, the court has asked the ACLU to give them their ideas for what the so called punishment would be. So I don’t think it’s entirely clear what the consequences are going to be for these missed deadlines, and it is clear to me having had a closed door briefing, but not classified, but closed door briefing from ICE and CBP and HHS, that there are still hundreds of parents that were deported, and will not be able to be reunified with their families at this point by the deadline and then also still a small number of children that they haven’t identified with parents. So this is still a problem not to mention that the court has ordered that the government pay the cost of reunification. Remember, the government separated these families. This is government sanctioned child abuse, and frankly, kidnapping. And now the families are being asked to pay thousands of dollars for their plane tickets, for the DNA test, for the fingerprints. They’re being asked to go through a process that is akin to somebody trying trying to adopt a child versus just trying to get your child back. So it really is outrageous on so many levels, and you know, and I know all of my colleagues are deeply committed to trying to do everything we can to continue to push this to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, this cruel, inhumane policy, and also trying to get an investigation into what happened and then you know, trying to get these families reunited and try to get some justice for them.

That was Pramila Jayapal, US representative for Washington’s seventh district, speaking with 91.3s Yuko Kodama.