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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 12, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 28
Pramila Jayapal's speech on immigration
Section One
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Pramila Jayapal's speech on immigration

The following speech was given by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) on July 2, 2019:

So, first of all, thank you so much for being here. It makes me so proud - I'm sorry, I'm losing my voice too - but it makes me so proud to represent this district and to have people that would take time out of their day to be here and to stand up for people who most need your voices. And, really, I can't tell you how much I feel that every day. People come up to me and thank me all the time, but the truth is you elected me, and you give me the power to use my voice to its fullest. So never underestimate what it means to tell me that you are with me on these things. And to know that I am representing our values, our values as a community. I want to thank Colleen for just giving us a historical perspective. I think people don't always think about family separation in a historical sense. And the truth is this isn't the first time families have been separated.

And, Colleen, you bring us to really important history and injustices against our Native people. So, thank you for doing that. Thank you for making that link. And then I want to thank the two women who spoke, who went to the border? Right here. Okay, thank you so much, because what is important about this is, and I'm going to tell you some of the things I've done, but what is important is when people take it upon themselves to go and see for themselves, not because you can't imagine what might be happening, or you don't know without seeing how bad things are, but when you go your energy for fixing what is wrong does get increased because you see the abuses in real time. And so this is really, really important. I understand you couldn't get into the camps. One of the things that is different for me about being an activist versus a congressmember is now I can go inside these places. So I'm not, you know, only - only can I be in front of people at a rally and talking about the injustices, but I can see for myself, and be a voice of truth, about what is really happening. And so I really appreciate that you both took the time to go and write about it, and I hope others will as well. There's a lot of work that needs to be done down there. And we are thinking about whether there's a way that we could organize some sort of a trip for constituents to go, even though you can't go into the camps. (APPLAUSE)

So some of you know that I have been working on this issue of immigration for a very long time. It is what brought me to Congress in many ways. It is the backbone, I feel like I can say, without any arrogance that there's probably not a lot of members of Congress who know as much about the immigration system, the policy, but also come to it as an immigrant myself. And so there's only 14 of us out of 535. And when I sit in the Judiciary Committee and when I sit in Congress, and when I weigh in on these things it is from a deep knowledge of what has been happening. And I'll tell you something that isn't that politic to say; if you've read the New York Times Magazine cover story on me I've sort of talked about this, but Gracele is right. This has been happening before. I've been working on immigration and trying to get rid of for profit detention centers for a long time; before I came to Congress and under both administrations. (APPLAUSE)

And & and so it's great that people now are waking up to what's happening, but some of the seeds in the foundations were laid. However, what is true also is that we have never had a president for whom cruelty is a trademark. Cruelty is a trademark. And for profit greed is the currency with which this administration operates. And so under this administration we have had numerous, some of you may remember that I was the first member of Congress to actually go into a federal prison, thanks to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and some of my underground people called me and said to me; we hear that some of the parents who have been separated from their kids are going to be put in the federal prison in CTAG. And so, immediately, I went, and a day after they were transferred I met with 227 of them. That was last year. That was last spring that this happened. And I was, and Hondi was with me, Rachael was with me, some of my staff were with me, we sat for almost three and a half hours talking to these parents who have been separated from their children, hearing about the helarias, the iceboxes that people are held in. About how they were tricked into thinking that their kids were going to be there when they went to the bathroom and they came back and their kids weren't there, and they could hear them screaming in the next room and they couldn't go to them. Some of them who had not seen their children for three weeks and didn't even know where they were. One woman who had a note that was given to her by ICE that said the names of her children except those weren't her children. So I heard these directly from them, and a week later I went back and talked to the hundred men who were there. And most of them were asylum seekers. Most of them were escaping terrible conditions in Latin America and Honduras, mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were the primary countries.

And because I could not sleep after that, a week later I called Anna Gallen, the Executive Director of Move On, and I want to thank the folks, and Move On, for helping to organize this as well, at 7 o'clock in the morning, on a Saturday and said; Anna, we have to do something to express our outrage. And she said; I agree, what should it be? And I said; I want half a million people in the streets. That's what I want. In a week. She doesn't answer my phone calls anymore. (LAUGHTER)

She said; we can't do it in a week, but let's do it in two weeks. And so Move On has been an amazing partner. The National Domestic Workers Alliance, IGEN, was a part of that conversation. And we were able to, within two weeks, have half a million people. And many of you were marching in the streets around family separation last summer. We then were able to, over and over again, even won a hearing, because we were under Republican control at that time. So we didn't get the hearings we wanted. But any hearing, we were able to just stop the hearing and I led on the judiciary committee a number of our colleagues to speak out against this injustice.

That was last summer. The courts ruled in our favor and said you cannot separate children from their families. We still have not been able to get from this administration any of the documents that show, give us all the information we need about how this policy actually happened. We had a child welfare specialist in front of our committee who said; I told, then Scott Lloyd - who was the head of ORR at the time - that is responsible for resettling a lot of these children - and that this child welfare specialist, Commander White, said; I told them that this would cause irreparable damage to these thousands of children.

And Scott Lloyd looked at me to the face and said; yes, I've heard that and I did not do anything about it. And so I have been calling for attention to that. But the thing is now we are just continuing. Families are being separated right now. Right now at the border. Eight-eight percent of the children who are held in these camps at the border have US family member relatives that they could be with. So money is not the issue here. Money is not the issue. And I don't believe that giving money to the border patrol is going to fix these conditions. That said, they, the Republicans, and some on our side as well, can't bear the thought of seeing the picture. Right? The picture of these kids, the picture, the haunting picture of the man who crossed the river with his child, his daughter, and died crossing that river.

Well, let me tell you something about that picture. I know something about that picture because shortly after I went to the federal prison, I was the first member of Congress to go to Tijuana when the metering process was put into place. How many of you know what the metering process is? Okay, good. This is an educated district, so at least some of you do. The metering process was a process that Trump put into place that said that they were no longer going to allow asylum seekers to come across the border. It was going to slow to a trickle. And, in fact, that you needed to come in through a legal point of entry if you were seeking asylum and that they would criminally prosecute people who came in any other way.

So they narrowed the flow of asylum seekers to the ports of entry. But then guess what they did. Closed the ports of entry.

So when I was in Tijuana I watched this happen. That they had literally closed ports of entry to asylum seekers. They were funneling asylum seekers into one, maybe two ports of entry, but even there they would only take two or three people at one time. And for the children, the unaccompanied children, they would turn them back, even though they weren't supposed to be doing that. So I went and worked with Elo Talagro, which is an amazing group in Mexico that works with these unaccompanied kids, and just watched, without saying that I was a member of Congress, I skipped my security detail and I went to a different point of entry, and then watched as these kids were turned back. And then went up to the border patrol as they were trying to turn them back and said; why are you turning them back? You don't have the right to turn them back. Seeking asylum is legal. And they fought with me and they said; who are you? You don't have a right to ask us these questions, at which point I pulled out my member badge and said; actually I'm the person that funds your agency, so I could ask whatever questions I want. (APPLAUSE)

And then I was able to accompany those five children across the border. And we were actually able to get them reunited, into the process anyway, and reunited, at least temporarily, while they wait for their final decisions.

So I say all of this to say that that haunting picture, that really I think & you know, hit the hearts of everybody, but understand that there are a lot more of those that aren't pictures but are still happening. But that was a picture and it caught the imagination of everybody. That is because of the metering process. It has nothing to do with money on the border because those people were trying to cross the river because they aren't given the opportunity to come in legally through a point of entry.

So if you really want to fix the border crisis here's what you have to do. You have to put money, aid, into Central American countries, something that Trump just cut. Okay? He just cut that. But that's the number one thing. Number two; you could have a program just like what's called the Lautenberg Amendment for Soviet Jews continue, Ukrainians have come in through this as well, where you give a specific type of entry visa with permanent status to a particular region that is very troubled. Right? Not everybody meets the asylum standards, but it's not because they're not escaping political violence, it's because the asylum standards are very, very strict.

But we have a crisis in Central America that needs our support. We need to allow those people to seek safety, because I am a mother, and I will tell you something, if you try to put my kids' lives in danger I am going to do whatever the hell I can to save their lives.

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