"We Can't Breathe": They Asked For Soap. Instead, ICE Pepper-Sprayed Them.
"We can't breathe."
"It was a horror movie, but it was real. We were banging on the glass. Someone passed out by the door looking for air. I threw up blood."
According to an investigative report by Mother Jones, women at ICE's LaSalle for-profit detention center were pepper-sprayed at close range after asking questions about how to stay safe while incarcerated and demanding soap.
Eighty women were trapped in a room filled with pepper spray, banging on the windows as they suffocated, passed out, and threw up blood.
The women asked ICE for soap. They got pepper-sprayed instead. https://t.co/jUfVQibFCz— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) April 22, 2020
Investigative reporter Noah Lanard interviewed some of the women there that day.
Jennifer is an asylum-seeker and mother of two boys, 6 and 9.
Kerlys, a former medical-assistant-in-training, has two young daughters.
Marlene is grandmother of five. She has lived in the US since she was three.
Adelina, a 46-year-old mother of five, has lived and worked in the US for 25 years.
Laura has been living in the US for 15 years, her son will soon turn 10. "I pay my taxes," she says.
The women described the incident in their own words...
Jennifer: It was the GEO administrator who sprayed the pepper spray. It was her, personally, who sprayed us.
Kerlys: An asthmatic woman fell to the floor after getting pepper-sprayed. She sprayed her in the face while she was on the ground.
Jennifer: She sprayed a lot people in the face, including me and a friend who’s asthmatic.
Kerlys: She did it knowing that there were people who’d had asthma attacks a few days ago from bleach they’d used in the bathroom.
Jennifer: She did it without compassion. It doesn’t matter to them that we’re humans.
Marlene: We were choking from the gas.
Kerlys: All of a sudden, everyone started coughing and rubbing their eyes. It turned into chaos. Everyone coughing. The people had asthma falling on the ground and passing out.
Marlene: We were yelling for them to open the door, and they didn’t open it. Somebody threw something at the window to break it, but you can’t break tempered glass or however these windows are.
Kerlys: We were hitting the glass. Help! Help! We’re suffocating.
Adelina: It hit me in the face, too. I couldn’t see. I went with everyone else to the back. I didn’t know what to do because I’d never experienced something so terrible before. I was looking for air, and there wasn’t air. [Making a gasping sound.] Searching. Searching. It was a horror movie, but it was real. We were banging on the glass. Someone passed out by the door looking for air. I threw up blood.
Marlene: They shut the door for an hour.
Afterward, the women describe how a "tiny, very skinny" girl was blamed for inciting the incident. She was thrown to the ground, where guards kneed her in the back and then dragged her away, "like she was an animal," said Jennifer.
Laura: I cried seeing how they treated her. She’s a human being, a woman. I felt very sad for her and scared they might do the same thing to me.
The women are scared.
Kerlys: If the virus gets in here, it’s going to be chaos. We’re all going to get sick.
Marlene: We hear what’s on the TV. We hear all the rules that are being applied out there, but not in here. We’re being forgotten. They had this whole episode about animals and shelters. What about immigrants? The animals get airtime, and the immigrants don’t.
The animals get airtime, the immigrants don't.
Listen to the interview below and read the full transcript HERE.