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‘We Have an Orchestra Here’: Border Patrol Agent Jokes as Children Just Separated From Parents Cry (LISTEN)


Audio of migrant children immediately after being separated from their parents by U.S. border and immigration agencies has surfaced for what appears to be the first time in the context of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy.

The recording begins with an ominous-sounding swell of music. That music quickly cuts away to the cries of 10 Central American children who, just moments before, were taken away from their parents by border patrol agents. Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, a six-year-old girl from El Salvador, is highlighted in the recording obtained by public interest news outlet ProPublica.

The children’s wails continue as Alison pleads in Spanish, “I don’t want them to stop my father. I don’t want them to deport him.”

Another child repeatedly cries out, in English, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Mommy!” The innumerable sobs continue and compound upon one another. The audio is sometimes difficult to make out as the tears continue. A border patrol agent makes light of the situation in Spanish:

Well, we have an orchestra here, right? What we’re missing is a conductor.

The children’s sobs are ceaseless throughout the recording. Over the constant din of children crying, immigration agents, consular employees and detention center workers discuss various issues, including the provision of food and immigration numbers. It’s unclear if the children understand the process as it unfolds around them. One conversation proceeds as follows:

Border patrol agent: Where are you from?
Alison: El Salvador.
BPA: And you?
Child 2: [through tears] Guatemala.
BPA: Don’t cry.

Another conversation:

Alison: I want to go with my aunt!
Border patrol agent: You’re going to get there. Look, she will explain it and help you.
Another child: Daddy!
Consular worker: I’m going to take you to speak to the person from your consulate okay?
Another child: Daddy! Daddy!
Alison: At least can I go with my aunt? I want her to come.
[crosstalk and sobs]
Alison: I want my aunt to come she can take me to her house.
Border patrol agent: She’ll help you call your aunt, if you have the number, so that you can talk to your aunt.
Alison: I have her number.
Border patrol agent: Okay, so she’ll help you right now so you can talk to her.
Another child: Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

The child then appears to be transferred over to the consular worker as the conversation continues:

Alison: Are you going to call my aunt so that when I’m done eating, she can pick me up?
Consular worker: When you get your food, I’ll come back so that–
Child 2: Daddy!
Alison: I have her number memorized. 34. 72.
Child 2: Daddy! Daddy!

According to ProPublica’s Ginger Thompson, the above recording is the first of its kind to be surreptitiously recorded and leaked to the media. The audio was recorded last week at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility.

Jennifer Harbury, a civil rights attorney who lives in the Rio Grande Valley, said the person who made the recording “heard the children’s weeping and crying and was devastated by it.” Harbury was given the recording but has declined to identify her source due to fears of retaliation.

As for Alison, she eventually reached her aunt on the phone. But because her aunt is currently undergoing a similar immigration process based on similar asylum claims, she said there was nothing she could do for the girl.

[image via John Moore/Getty Images]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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