Federal agents have separated immigrant mothers with their children and are now holding the women at a federal prison in SeaTac, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project officials said Thursday.
The Department of Homeland Security transferred as many as 120 asylum seekers, most of them women, from Texas to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, according to the legal nonprofit.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project staffers said they met with two women on Wednesday who arrived at the U.S. southern border with their young daughters in mid-May. The women were separated from their children shortly after they were apprehended by Border Patrol, according to the NWIRP statement.
NWIRP Matt Adams told PubliCola federal agents have refused to tell mothers where their children are, and that NWIRP doesn't know how many children had been separated from their parents. Unlike the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, the federal prison in SeaTac offers no presentations on immigrants' legal rights.
Adams told PubliCola he believes federal agents are using the family separation as a scare tactic to discourage other refugees from trying to come into the U.S.
"The administration has been very transparent in that this is what it's all about," Adams said. "The bottom line is, the law allows anyone who comes here to apply for asylum. Trump can't take that away from them."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Danielle Bennett confirmed that as part of a new agreement, the agency can use more than 1,600 prison beds to "meet the demand for additional immigration detention space, both long and short term."
The Federal Detention Center in SeaTac has 206 available beds. ICE did not comment on how many immigrants had been transported there.
Bennett said the access to Bureau of Prison facilities is temporary while ICE tries to obtain new long-term detention facilities "or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides."
"ICE continues to enforce immigration laws consistent with the administration's directives and the law," Bennett said in a statement.
The women NWIRP said they spoke to were sentenced to "time served" and no longer have criminal charges pending, but continue to remain held at the federal prison with those serving sentences or awaiting trial.
The unidentified women reported about 60 others who were facing similar circumstances at the detention center. Another 60 asylum seekers are reportedly being held in another part of the SeaTac prison, according to NWIRP.
"The tragedy that is the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents is now taking place in our state," NWIRP executive director Jorge Baron said in a statement. The announcement prompted elected officials on Thursday to condemn the federal administration and demand more answers.
Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan on Friday also drafted a letter signed by 25 other mayors and county leaders that urged the federal administration to stop its "zero tolerance" policy and keep families together.
“Both as a mayor and as a mother, I find the practice of indefinitely separating kids from their parents a repulsive policy, inconsistent with our values as Americans," Durkan said in a statement. "Tearing families apart traumatizes children and torments immigrants who have already endured grueling trials in their escape from violence and terror.”
Updated 9:37am on June 8, 2018, to include more statements from local officials.