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Oregon Lawmakers Demand Sessions and Nielsen Reverse Zero Tolerance Policy

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader today demanded Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen immediately reverse the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy that’s left asylum seekers dumped in federal prisons.

The Oregon lawmakers said their letter follows a troubling meeting Saturday, June 16 with many of the 123 asylum seekers held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Ore (FCI Sheridan).

We write to you about the inhumane and un-American treatment of asylum seekers detained in federal prisons across the United States, and ask that you immediately reverse the Zero Tolerance Policy,” they said in their letter to Sessions and Nielsen. “Conversations with these men fleeing persecution and terror in their home countries left us extremely concerned about their treatment here and the conditions surrounding their detention.”

Wyden, Merkley, Bonamici, Blumenauer and Schrader wrote that none of the asylum seekers had spoken with legal counsel about their asylum claims and that some of the men indicated they lacked any access to an interpreter until the June 16 delegation visit. They also raised concerns based on the June 16 meeting that medical care at Sheridan is limited, and that detainees are being held for 22-23 hours a day in their cells in higher security facilities than convicted criminals.

“Further, several men stated they were separated from their wives and children and did not know where their loved ones are, including one man who was separated from his 18 month-old daughter,” they wrote. “The situation at FCI Sheridan is unacceptable and flies in the face of humanitarian values we hold dear in Oregon and across the United States.”

The five Oregon lawmakers urged Sessions and Nielsen to work immediately with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and immigration lawyers to follow the law and provide these asylum seekers their constitutional rights. Among those rights are rights to legal counsel, medical care, religious support, meals that respect asylum seekers’ religious requirements, interpreters, visitations, hearings at the Portland Immigration Court, and information on where detainees’ family members are being held and how to communicate with them.

A copy of the entire letter is here.