Up until now, the information has been limited to tweets from reporters and interviews with people who have been inside the facilities. Immigration officials have been strict about keeping cameras out of the facilities, and barring journalists touring the detention centers from taking photos.
Now, we have a better glimpse of what life is like for the children forced to stay in these warehouses, behind chainlink fences, through the sound of their cries. On Monday, ProPublica published audio recorded at an immigration detention center last week. The file was recorded by an anonymous source, and obtained by ProPublica through a civil rights attorney.
In the recording, you can hear children wailing and crying for their mothers and fathers. Then, an unnamed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent says this:
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.”
Read that again, and think about what would compel someone to make such a comment about the sound of inconsolable children—alone, terrified, with no idea where their parents are.
Here is the audio ProPublica obtained. Warning: it is extremely disturbing.
ProPublica’s source said the children in the recording are between the ages of 4 and 10, and had been detained for less than 24 hours. Their pain is raw. They are “inconsolable” (emphasis added):
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.”
ProPublica dialed the number the Salvadoran girl recited in the audio, and was able to speak with the girl’s aunt.
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.’”
It is excruciating to listen to the sound of these children, crying for their parents, gasping for air between cries (I only made it two minutes into the video before having to stop). But it is still crucial to keep paying attention to these young children’s pain, and not to give in to the urge to minimize it. It’s crucial not to obey the mental defense mechanisms that want us to sugarcoat what is happening here, or simply to inure ourselves against it
Don’t tune this out. Don’t get numb. Keep listening. Whatever pain you experience in listening to the recording is valid. It is also a fraction of what the children in the recording are going through right now.