The separation of immigrant parents and their children at US’ southern border has turned into a topic of intense debate in recent days, with even First Lady Melania Trump commenting against it. But as Donald Trump and his administration continue to defend their new “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, an audio recording of the cries of children after being separated from their families is making an attempt to give us a closer look at the situation.
In the audio clips — accessed by non-profit news platform ProPublica from a Customs and Border Protection facility — Central American children, estimated to be between 4 and 10 years old, are heard sobbing and asking for their “Mami” and “Papi”.
Amid the intense cries, a Border Patrol agent is heard mocking the children. “Well, we have an orchestra here…What’s missing is a conductor,” he says in the clip. Six-year-old Alison Jimena Valenica Madrid can be heard reciting the contact number of an aunt in the US and begging the authorities to call her.
Children of immigrant families are reportedly being kept in such facilites. In Texas, hundreds of unaccompanied children, individual adults, and parents with their children are being kept in series of metal cages in an old warehouse. The Associated Press quoted the Border Patrol as saying that close to 200 people inside the facility were minors, unaccompanied by a parent.
The new Trump administration policy, which went into effect in May, sought to maximize criminal prosecutions of people caught trying to enter the US illegally. More adults were being put behind bars as a result, which had led to their children being separated from them.
Since Attorney-General Jeff Sessions announced the policy, nearly 2,000 children have been taken away from their parents. Church groups and human rights advocates have sharply criticised the policy, calling it inhumane.
Stories have spread of children being snatched away from their parents’ arms, and parents not being able to find where their kids have gone.
In a rare statement, Melania’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham told on Sunday that the first lady “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform.”
“She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
Laura Bush, in a guest column for The Washington Post, compared the new policy to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel,” she wrote. She said that “the US government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso.”
Even though the statements suggest that the matter is an issue for Congress, Democratic lawmakers and others have pointed out that no law mandates the separation of children and parents at the border.
In an effort to rebut criticism of the administration, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday repeated in a tweet the department’s view: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
She further accused the news media and others of misreporting the issue.
“Border security and immigration enforcement are complex topics. They cannot be reduced to media soundbites,” she said in another tweet.
She also said that Congress can fix these problems. “Instead of criticizing those of us who uphold our oaths by enforcing the laws Congress drafted, work with us to change them. There will be legislation in the House this week that will address this issue and close the loopholes. Let’s solve it,” Nielsen said.