In a leaked audio recording from a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol detention facility, children separated from their parents can be heard crying while a Border Patrol agent makes fun of them.
The person who leaked the recording to a civil rights attorney, who the gave the audio to investigative journalism outlet ProPublica, said the children heard in the audio clip at an unnamed facility near the Texas/Mexico border are between the ages of four and 10 years old. In the recording, children are repeatedly heard saying “Mami” and “Papá” after being caged for less than 24 hours after being separated, when the emotional trauma of the separation was still present.
“Well, we have an orchestra here,” a Border Patrol officer is heard saying in reference to the children’s cries at approximately the 60-second mark, making sure to say it in Spanish so the caged children will understand him. “What we need is a conductor.”
At around the three-minute mark, a consular worker is heard talking to some of the children pleading to be with their parents — an El Salvadoran girl and a Guatemalan girl. The El Salvadoran girl tearfully asks the consular worker if she can call her aunt, rattling off the number, which she memorized prior to being taken away from her family.
“At least can I go with my aunt? I want her to come,” the girl is heard saying through sobs. “I want my aunt to come so she can take me to her house.”
ProPublica called the number heard in the recording and spoke to the undocumented girl’s aunt, who described the recording as “the hardest moment in [her] life.”
“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 girl’s aunt said.
The Associated Press estimates that more than 2,000 children have been taken away from their parents after being detained at the border since mid-April, when the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy of isolating children was officially put into practice. The American Association of Pediatricians said the “zero tolerance” policy can cause “irreparable harm” to children who have been separated from their parents.
Alarmingly, some of the undocumented boys and girls taken away from their parents are reportedly assigned to different detainees while being processed by Border Patrol agents, meaning that some agents’ mistakes could mean kids may never see their mothers or fathers again. Both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited the Bible to justify the “zero tolerance” policy, while Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied that there ever was a policy of separating families in a recent tweet.
Both current First Lady Melania Trump (through a spokeperson) and former First Lady Laura Bush criticized the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy over the weekend.
Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.