"Well, we have an orchestra here. What's missing is a conductor." That's the voice of a Border Patrol official, mocking a sobbing group of 10 terrified Central American children who've been separated from their parents at a US border-crossing.
Propublica published the audio, whose origin is not disclosed. The children are sobbing so hard it's hard to understand them, but some of their words can be made out, like the six-year-old Salvadoran girl who keeps repeating her mother's phone number, begging someone to call her.
My daughter is ten.
When she was born in 2008, something weird happened to me. I stopped being able to watch or read fiction in which children were in peril. I also stopped being able to write those stories. Something profoundly changed inside me the day she was born.
Listening to this, I am physically sickened. I can't imagine being the father or mother of one of these children. It would take Herculean self-control not to physically attack anyone who did this to my child. I would be literally out of my mind.
This is happening on our watch, with our tax dollars, in our name.
The audio obtained by ProPublica breaks that silence. It was recorded last week inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility. The person who made the recording asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. That person gave the audio to Jennifer Harbury, a well-known civil rights attorney who has lived and worked for four decades in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border with Mexico. Harbury provided it to ProPublica. She said the person who recorded it was a client who "heard the children's weeping and crying, and was devastated by it."
The person estimated that the children on the recording are between 4 and 10 years old. It appeared that they had been at the detention center for less than 24 hours, so their distress at having been separated from their parents was still raw. Consulate officials tried to comfort them with snacks and toys. But the children were inconsolable.
Listen to Children Who've Just Been Separated From Their Parents at the Border [Ginger Thompson/Propublica]