(The Nation) — In the week since Senator Jeff Merkley made news when he was turned away from a child-immigrant-detention center in Brownsville, Texas, mainstream news outlets have begun covering the abomination at the border. There have been numerous stories about parents, many seeking asylum and escaping violence, having their children ripped away from them by US authorities, who then send those kids far and wide, often where their parents can’t find them. Maybe the worst story came from The Washington Post on Friday: Honduran asylum seeker Marco Antonio Muñoz lost his son at the McAllen, Texas, processing center—and then killed himself while in US custody.
Only one member of Congress has been able to talk to the mothers who have had their children taken from them: Washington state Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who got into a federal Bureau of Prisons facility Saturday near Seattle to meet with roughly 170 immigrant women held there. More than a third had lost their children during their migration, either when they were detained by US officials at the southern border or when they turned themselves in seeking asylum. Some of the women she met had lost children but were not from Latin America; because she only had a Spanish-English translator, she couldn’t talk to them, Jayapal told me.
The first-term congresswoman knows the US immigration system and its abuses very well. She came to the United States from India at 16 to study at Georgetown. After 9/11, she founded an organization to promote immigrant rights. And in 2014, running for Washington State Senate as a Democrat, she joined a hunger strike to protest President Obama’s deportation policies. While she still argues that Obama made mistakes on immigration, she makes clear that the Trump policy of family separation has no parallel in recent American history.