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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

‘How can I help the immigrant moms?’ Buy a phone card or donate, advocates say

A stroller was used to hold up a sign during the Solidarity Day protest outside of the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.
Daniel Berman for KUOW
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A stroller was used to hold up a sign during the Solidarity Day protest outside of the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.

Question: “I’m a new mom to a six-month-old baby, and hearing how desperately these women missed their children, and vice versa, made me feel heartbroken and ashamed of our country,” listener Kari Blankenship wrote.  

She and other KUOW listeners have been asking what they can do to help locally detained parents. 

Answer: Two local organizations are collecting donations for detained immigrants in the Pacific Northwest to make phone calls: Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, (or NWIRP) and Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest (AID NW).

In the past two weeks, NWIRP has raised around $1,200 for phone cards and $400,000 for legal aid, development and communications director Maria Kolby-Wolfe said.

“It’s been a light of hope for all of us here that so many of the people in the community are behind us and with our clients who are looking for their children,” she said.

According to NWIRP, approximately 150 asylum seekers are currently being held in SeaTac at the Federal Detention Center. Roughly 50 of them were parents who were separated from their children, but last week, immigration officials confirmed that 30 were transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

AID NW serves immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center and has an RV “Welcome Center” parked outside the gate to greet people as they’re released. AID NW already budgets $3,300 a year to help detainees pay for phone calls.

Community members are reaching out to support the group, volunteer coordinator Deborah Cruz said.

“The emails that are coming in are, ‘How can I help, how can I help?’” Cruz said. “We’ve been receiving donations almost on a daily basis.”

The organization will dedicate all donations to buy phone cards until July 15.

As of June 23, 522 detained children were reunited with adult family members and 2,053 remained in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the Department of Homeland Security.