Saturday 24 October, 2020

'Papa! Papa!': Crying children audio escalates US border row

(Image: AP: People taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the US rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, on 17 June 2018)

(Image: AP: People taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the US rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, on 17 June 2018)

An audio recording that appears to capture the heart-breaking voices of small Spanish-speaking children crying out for their parents at a US immigration facility took centre stage in the growing uproar over the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.

"Papa! Papa!" one child is heard weeping in the audio file that was first reported on Monday by the nonprofit ProPublica and later provided to The Associated Press. The child, who sounds young, calls over and over again for his or her father, crying throughout. Another young child repeatedly pleads to be allowed to go with his or her aunt.

Human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury said she received the tape from a whistleblower and told ProPublica it was recorded in the last week. She did not provide details about where exactly it was recorded.


Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she had not heard the audio but said children taken into custody by the government were being treated humanely.

The audio surfaced as politicians and advocates flocked to the US-Mexico border to visit US immigration detention centres and turn up the pressure on the Trump administration.

The separations stem from a Trump administration policy that turns all cases of people trying to enter the country illegally over for criminal prosecution. Under US protocol, children are not detained with their parents when the parents are facing a criminal charge.

But the backlash over the policy is widening. The Mormon church said it was "deeply troubled" by the separation of families at the border and urged national leaders to find compassionate solutions. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, reversed a decision to send a National Guard helicopter from his state to the Mexican border to assist in a deployment, citing the administration's "cruel and inhumane" policy.

At the border, several groups of lawmakers toured a facility in Brownsville, Texas, that houses hundreds of immigrant children.

Democratic lawmaker Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico said the location was a former hospital converted into living quarters for children, with rooms divided by age group. There was even a small room for infants, complete with two high chairs, where two baby boys wore matching rugby style shirts with orange and white stripes.

Another group of lawmakers on Sunday visited an old warehouse in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of children were being held in cages created by metal fencing. One cage held 20 youngsters. More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility, which is divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters during a tour of San Diego immigration detention facilities with Rep. Juan Vargas and other House Democrats, said family separation is a "heartbreaking, barbarian issue that could be changed in a moment by the president of the United States rescinding his action".

President Donald Trump emphatically defended his administration's policy Monday, again falsely blaming Democrats. "The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility," he declared. "Not on my watch."

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