The Democrats Have an Immigration Problem

Family separations, multibillion-dollar border-wall schemes, unleashed ICE officers —the Trump presidency has taught the Democrats what they stand against. Now they have to figure out what they stand for.

In early June, the Washington office of Representative Pramila Jayapal began to hear rumors about the women. They had crossed into Texas, where Border Patrol officers promptly arrested them. But now the women were somewhere around Seattle, the city Jayapal represents.

Her staff made calls. Usually, undocumented immigrants in the area were held at the Northwest Detention Center, a private facility operated under a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But the detention center had not received the women. There were too many of them for ICE to house. Instead, as Jayapal learned on June 7, the mothers were now inmates at a Bureau of Prisons facility near the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

Jayapal flew home to Seattle the following night. She showed up at the federal prison the next morning and was escorted to the three pods where the new inmates were held. There were 174 women. Many of them had come to the United States with their children, some as young as 5. A majority were from the violence-racked Central American countries El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; others had traveled from as far as China and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All of them sought asylum. Some of them, after crossing the Rio Grande, spent their first night in the United States shivering in their damp clothes on Mylar sheets in the sprawling processing center in McAllen, Tex., nicknamed the hielera, or icebox.

But at least their children had been with them. Now they were gone. The immigration authorities would not say where the children had been taken or when they would be returned. As part of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, several thousand children were being separated from their parents at the border — a tactic that previous administrations had avoided and that the mothers could not have anticipated. Meanwhile, the 174 women, having been denied initial interviews to determine whether their asylum claims merited their protection under international law, were instead piled onto airplanes and flown to the Pacific Northwest, where they were given slips of paper with their children’s names on them.

By Robert Draper for THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINES
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