Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that nine children were brought to the state in the aftermath of family separations at the border. The children are not in state foster care, but rather facilities or individual families licensed by the Department of Social and Health Services. He would not elaborate further on their circumstances.
Inslee also announced $1.2 million in legal aid funding for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project during a press conference. A $1 million grant had been approved during the past legislative session; the governor announced an additional $230,000 in emergency funding.
That came just hours after President Trump signed an executive order to reverse the family separation policy at southern borders.
"We need to stand up against this bully," said Governor Inslee in a fiery news conference Tuesday afternoon. "If we stand up against this bully, we can defeat him because he just folded like a cheap suit, because we finally got Americans of both parties to stand up against him."
"I can tell you this, as a parent and grandparent—if these children were housed in the Ritz Carlton with food service every moment, they would still be traumatized and subject to abuse because they’ve been denied the relationship with their parent," continued Inslee.
The new funding for the Northwest Immigration Rights Project will go towards hiring new legal staff and immigration attorneys to represent the individuals and unaccompanied minors, according to executive director Jorge Barón.
"Our goal is to make sure, particularly with folks who are here right now, to try to get as many families reunited, to get people who are victims of domestic violence, of sexual assault who are seeking protection in our country the protection they are entitled to under law,” said Barón.
His group has been working for the past couple of weeks to help asylum seekers who ended up in Washington, including those who have been separated from their children.
“We’ve interviewed several clients who have been separated from 4 and 5-year-olds. I had one father who was separated from his 3-year-old child and many others who just have gut-wrenching stories,” said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The group says it has counted 206 asylum seekers who are detained at the federal detention center in SeaTac. Adams said roughly 50 of the detainees are moms and dads whose children have been taken from them by federal authorities -- a number much larger than what the state is reporting.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 167 detainees in SeaTac: 25 males and 142 females. The bureau did not provide information to KING 5 on how many of the detainees are parents. The prison has been asked to provide beds for 120 days, and possibly up to 12 months, a bureau representative said in an email.
“They're in cells. This is a prison, and they're just in there like any other prisoner, placed in a jumpsuit, locked up. They have no freedom. And this is despite the fact that this is only for them to go through the asylum process. This is not supposed to be a punishment. There is no criminal process at play,” Adams said.
The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is working to locate detainees' children and help guide families through the asylum process, but it's still unclear what might happen next.
Adams said "credible fear hearings" have begun for some of the asylum seekers, which is the first step of the process. Court hearings have not yet been set, and the process can take awhile unless expedited.
“How long this is going to drag out? We don't know,” Adams said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is a ranking Democrat on the Health Committee, sent a letter Thursday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking about the children’s whereabouts.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons denied a request by KING 5 to visit the SeaTac prison, though it said it may reconsider the request in a few weeks.
The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is in the process of recruiting help. They are looking for attorneys who speak Spanish as well as interpreters, and they are planning a public meeting for 9:30 a.m. at Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, Wednesday, to figure out what to do next.
More info on the meeting here.