“Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe,” ProPublica says of an audio recording of Central American children that the non-profit investigative outlet released Monday.
The nearly seven minute audio recording was provided to ProPublica by Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard-educated lawyer who has devoted much of her career to securing entry into the United States for Central Americans. Her husband, a leader of a Guatemalan communist militia who went by “Comandante Everardo,” was killed by CIA-backed forces in the early 1990s.
ProPublica claims, based on Harbury and her source’s description, that the recording was captured last week at an undisclosed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility, shortly after ten Central American alien children were taken into custody separately from the adults with whom they were apprehended crossing the American border.
Less than two hours after the tape’s release, a member of the White House Press Corps was blaring the recording as Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Kristjen Nielsen spoke during the press conference at which she defended the administration from accusations of “child abuse.” New York magazine correspondent Olivia Nuzzi, notable for sneaking into Corey Lewandowski’s home without his permission, later claimed to be the culprit.
Author Ginger Thompson writes that the audio “makes for excruciating listening,” includes “desperate sobbing,” and “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.” These children “scream ‘Mami’ and ‘Papá’ over and over again, as if those are the only words they know,” readers are told in the opening paragraph.
The ProPublica recording spread quickly on social media, often being presented along with a staged photograph of a child at an anti-Trump demonstration in a “cage” that had been miscaptioned as also being from a CBP facility. By evening, CNN was playing significant portions of the recording.
Proponents saw the recording as proof of the inhumanity of administration border policy. As Thompson would have it, even before the tape’s release, those purported policies “united religious conservatives and immigrant rights activists, who have said that ‘zero tolerance’ amounts to ‘zero humanity.'”
No indication is given as to why most of the specific adults in the recording are being separated from the children, but – in accordance with federal immigration laws and a 1990s court settlement preventing the incarceration of alien children in criminal facilities – adults, including parents, are being separated from children when they are charged with criminal immigration offenses. Other possible causes of separation include the adults not being able to establish any familial connection to the children.
Much is made of the fact that, while Border Patrol agents are “tr[ying] to comfort [the children] with snacks and toys,” one agent says, in deadpan Spanish, that they “have an orchestra here,” in apparent reference to the crying.
Only one child is identified, a 6-year-old Salvadoran girl who is distraught over not being able to call her aunt, although officials on hand from the Salvadoran consulate do offer to make the call. According to the article, the girl, being kept in a facility for children with beds, is now in regular contact with her aunt. The aunt is in contact with her sister, the girl’s mother, who is being held in nearby Port Isabel, Texas.
The reason for the mother’s detention is not specified in the article. Based on the name given in the ProPublica article, however, Breitbart News obtained court documents indicating she is charged with violating 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a) “Improper entry by alien.” According to the complaint, she was caught rafting across the Rio Grande last Tuesday and admitted to the border patrol that she was crossing illegally. The next day, she pleaded guilty before a federal magistrate judge.
The girl’s aunt, ProPublica discovered when they contacted her, has been in America, along with her own daughter, for two years, having made an asylum claim and being allowed to live and work in the United States without a court ever evaluating its validity under what are known as “catch and release” policies. The story the aunt tells ProPublica, that she fled gang violence endemic to El Salvador, generally does not qualify someone for asylum in the United States.
According to the aunt, the 6-year-old and her mother came to America for the same generally non-qualifying reason. She freely admits her sister hired a human smuggler for $7,000 and she tells ProPublica she is upset her sister’s “investment” was not rewarded with a life in the United States.
As Breitbart News reported Monday, little is new about the facilities in which children are being kept after being apprehended crossing the U.S. border without permission. Many of the same spaces being referred to as “cages” were in use in 2014, when the Obama administration dealt with the so-called “unaccompanied alien children” wave. Secretary Nielsen spent much of Monday defending conditions in DHS facilities.
The policies themselves are also little changed from earlier administrations. The main change comes from the Department of Justice, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April, a year after the start of his effort to crack down at the border, that “zero-tolerance” prosecution guidelines would mean more people who commit immigration related crimes will be tried.
According to ProPublica, “Condemnations of the policy have been swift and sharp, including from some of the administration’s most reliable supporters.” In support of this, they cite former First Lady Laura Bush, who penned a Washington Post op-ed Monday opposing the administration’s border policy.