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Thompson writes: "The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening."

A two-year-old Honduran girl and her mother in McAllen, Texas. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
A two-year-old Honduran girl and her mother in McAllen, Texas. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

An Audio Exists of Children Being Ripped From the Arms of Their Parents at the Border

By Ginger Thompson, ProPublica

19 June 18


he desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.

The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

Then a distraught but determined 6-year-old Salvadoran girl pleads repeatedly for someone to call her aunt. Just one call, she begs anyone who will listen. She says she’s memorized the phone number, and at one point, rattles it off to a consular representative. “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt,” she whimpers, “and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”

An audio recording obtained by ProPublica adds real-life sounds of suffering to a contentious policy debate that has so far been short on input from those with the most at stake: immigrant children. More than 2,300 of them have been separated from their parents since April, when the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for prosecuting all people who attempt to illegally enter the country and taking away the children they brought with them. More than 100 of those children are under the age of 4. The children are initially held in warehouses, tents or big box stores that have been converted into Border Patrol detention facilities.

Condemnations of the policy have been swift and sharp, including from some of the administration’s most reliable supporters. It has united religious conservatives and immigrant rights activists, who have said that “zero tolerance” amounts to “zero humanity.” Democratic and Republican members of Congress spoke out against the administration’s enforcement efforts over the weekend. Former first lady Laura Bush called the administration’s practices “cruel” and “immoral,” and likened images of immigrant children being held in kennels to those that came out of Japanese internment camps during World War II. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has said the practice of separating children from their parents can cause the children “irreparable harm.”

Still, the administration had stood by it. President Donald Trump blames Democrats and says his administration is only enforcing laws already on the books, although that’s not true. There are no laws that require children to be separated from their parents, or that call for criminal prosecutions of all undocumented border crossers. Those practices were established by the Trump administration.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cited passages from the Bible in an attempt to establish religious justification. On Monday, he defended it again saying it was a matter of rule of law, “We cannot and will not encourage people to bring children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws.” A Border Patrol spokesman echoed that thought in a written statement.

In recent days, authorities on the border have begun allowing tightly controlled tours of the facilities that are meant to put a humane face on the policy. But cameras are heavily restricted. And the children being held are not allowed to speak to journalists.

The audio obtained by ProPublica breaks that silence. It was recorded last week inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility. The person who made the recording asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. That person gave the audio to Jennifer Harbury, a well-known civil rights attorney who has lived and worked for four decades in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border with Mexico. Harbury provided it to ProPublica. She said the person who recorded it was a client who “heard the children’s weeping and crying, and was devastated by it.”

The person estimated that the children on the recording are between 4 and 10 years old. It appeared that they had been at the detention center for less than 24 hours, so their distress at having been separated from their parents was still raw. Consulate officials tried to comfort them with snacks and toys. But the children were inconsolable.

The child who stood out the most was the 6-year-old Salvadoran girl with a phone number stuck in her head. At the end of the audio, a consular official offers to call the girl’s aunt. ProPublica dialed the number she recited in the audio, and spoke with the aunt about the call.

“It was the hardest moment in my life,” she said. “Imagine getting a call from your 6-year-old niece. She’s crying and begging me to go get her. She says, ‘I promise I’ll behave, but please get me out of here. I’m all alone.’”

The aunt said what made the call even more painful was that there was nothing she could do. She and her 9-year-old daughter are seeking asylum in the United States after immigrating here two years ago for the exact same reasons and on the exact same route as her sister and her niece. They are from a small town called Armenia, about an hour’s drive northwest of the Salvadoran capital, but well within reach of its crippling crime waves. She said gangs were everywhere in El Salvador: “They’re on the buses. They’re in the banks. They’re in schools. They’re in the police. There’s nowhere for normal people to feel safe.”

She said her niece and sister set out for the United States over a month ago. They paid a smuggler $7,000 to guide them through Guatemala, and Mexico and across the border into the United States. Now, she said, all the risk and investment seem lost.

The aunt said she worried that any attempt to intervene in her niece’s situation would put hers and her daughter’s asylum case at risk, particularly since the Trump administration overturned asylum protections for victims of gang and domestic violence. She said she’s managed to speak to her sister, who has been moved to an immigration detention facility near Port Isabel, Texas. And she keeps in touch with her niece, Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, by telephone. Mother and daughter, however, have not been able to speak to one another.

The aunt said that Alison has been moved out of the Border Patrol facility to a shelter where she has a real bed. But she said that authorities at the shelter have warned the girl that her mother, 29-year-old Cindy Madrid, might be deported without her.

“I know she’s not an American citizen,” the aunt said of her niece. “But she’s a human being. She’s a child. How can they treat her this way?”

Has your family been separated at the U.S.–Mexico border? Are you a worker at a detention center or do you aid families who have been affected? Tell us more at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 347-244-2134. your social media marketing partner


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+16 # MainStreetMentor 2018-06-19 12:29
Words of outrage and condemnation are not enough. We NEED legal eradication of the policies and procedures initiated and implemented by this regime. The entire cabinet, and all its’ members, are incompetent, incapable and inept, as is the President. The President needs to come under the blanket of impeachment proceedings and his cabinet needs to be legally removed from their posts. One way to do that is to “camp out” (for as long as necessary) at/in the offices of our elected national representatives and senators demanding they act on OUR behalf and on the behalf of those immigrants at our borders. Those necessary actions need to be followed up with legal elections to help assure that Trump supporters do NOT get back into office in the 2018 and 2020 national elections. Gather with your friends, relatives and persons of like mindset, and contact your elected representatives and senators and DEMAND the above changes take place through legal means.
+17 # Benign Observer 2018-06-19 14:51
America has been deferential to religious bigots long enough. Evangelicals have proved that Christians are no better than anyone else. They are just fine with corporal punishment, capital punishment, cutting aid to the poor, incest and pedophiles -- so they need to quit pretending they value 'life'.

They have no particularly enlightened views on morality or ethics. Instead religion has been used to justify the most heinous acts imaginable, including war, slavery and now this.

There was Jeff Sessions, spewing Bible passages as if that proved a damn thing. Personally, if Jesus IS watching us I'd say Sessions and people like Ralph Reed are in deep deep shit.

We DEFINITELY need to retract tax-free status for churches. What a bunch of bullshit. Let them pay taxes and let's use the money to give people education and healthcare.

Or let's declare progressivism a religion.
+2 # chrisconno 2018-06-19 19:36
And let's reunite those stolen children with their parents. Why are we deporting parents without their children? How can they possibly be taking CARE of those thousands of children? What kind of showers are they giving them? The fumigating kind with roughly applied stiff brushes like the Nazi's? There shouldn't be one more child stolen, warehoused for profit or lost.
+5 # rofo47 2018-06-19 20:14
How can any caring human being listen to this and still support our Dear Leader? Obviously Trump is sub-human for allowing this to continue. He really cannot ever admit that he is wrong. I really don't like what this country has become and am no longer proud to be an American. A president lead us to war on a lie to gain political capital, we bomb innocent people in the name of freedom, owning a gun and gun rifgts are more important than the lives of those 20 babies from Newtown, a handful of families own most of the wealth in this country, people of color are murdered by police with little or no repercussion, religious bigots taking over, our Dear Leader praising authoritarians while claiming a free press is the most dangerous threat to the country and now this most inhumane practice of separating babies from their parents. Perhaps worst of all 40% of the uneducated misinformed population sees nothing wrong with all this. I know the GOP thinks Jesus wrote the Constitution but where is our savior now?
+3 # tarantilla 2018-06-19 20:53
Get real!! Over 50% of Republican's approve of torturing immigrant children. That's the reality of this. A barbarian president who loves totture and who is supported in this activity by a majority of Republican's. Maybe Deomocrats should vote.

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