In a Facebook video posted Wednesday afternoon by Clarise Augustin Uhuru, a previously detained immigrant mother confronted Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in Washington, D.C to ask that he help free her son, whom she says has been held in a private immigration prison for 15 months.
“Mr. Johnson, please. I need you to help my son,” the mother said in Spanish as her comments were translated for Johnson by another unidentified woman. “He’s been detained for one year and three months.” The mother also told Johnson that her three children were granted asylum but a judge would not help her son.
“Nobody is listening to me,” the mother added. “Please.”
Johnson told the mother he was “sorry for her situation.” After the mother repeated her pleas in the video, Johnson asked, “Where is your husband from?” The woman translating for the mother corrected Johnson, saying that it was the mother’s son who was being detained and that he was 20 years old. The mother then told Johnson that her son was from Guatemala. She then proceeded to repeat the asylum information she shared previously in the video.
“But this judge is very bad,” the mother said. “He won’t grant [asylum] to my son.”
Johnson asked the mother if her son had a lawyer. She told Johnson that he did.
“I hope [the lawyer] is getting him released on bond or getting him asylum,” Johnson said.
At this point, the woman who was translating for the mother said, “That’s why so many of us are concerned about the private prison industry because they create incentives for situations like these.” The women then introduced other detainees who were behind the mother.
After that moment, Johnson said, “People can be released on bond. I specifically met with a migrant from this facility who was able to make bond.”
“No, we’ve seen situations where it is, but that’s why we want to cut the private prison industry,” said the woman, who then pointed to another woman wearing an ankle monitor and referred to Johnson’s August announcement to evaluate and review DHS contracts with private immigration prisons.
As Johnson walked away, the mother identified her son’s name.
The video was part of an action by immigrant rights organizers and allies to deliver 200,000 signatures to Johnson, asking DHS to immediately cut ties with private prison companies and not wait until a report came out in late November with recommendations.
Although the Facebook video did not identify the mother who confronted Johnson, in the official release shared by organizers, there is a quote from Cindy Barrientos, a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance of Human Rights:
“My son has spent over a year and three months in a privately run detention center in Georgia,” Barrientos said. “I asked the Secretary to look into his case and free him because I want him home.”