Children Heard Crying In Detention Center Audio Recording ProPublica has spoken with the family of a young girl who was heard earlier in the week on audio from a detention center in Texas. NPR's Rachel Martin talks with ProPublica reporter Ginger Thompson.

Children Heard Crying In Detention Center Audio Recording

Children Heard Crying In Detention Center Audio Recording

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ProPublica has spoken with the family of a young girl who was heard earlier in the week on audio from a detention center in Texas. NPR's Rachel Martin talks with ProPublica reporter Ginger Thompson.


Journalists have had a really hard time getting into any of these detention centers where migrant children are being held. For that matter, so have lawmakers from both parties. As a result, we just don't have a lot of details about the conditions inside or how the children are faring after being separated from their parents. And that is why the audio that was released earlier this week from ProPublica was so jarring - the voices of children crying, calling out for their mothers and fathers. We're going to play some of that now. A warning - some people may find the audio upsetting.



MARTIN: Ginger Thompson is the ProPublica investigative reporter who obtained this recording. She got it from a civil rights attorney who works in the Rio Grande Valley, who got it from an unnamed source. The recording runs for several minutes. And at one part, you hear a little girl recite a phone number. The girl is a 6-year-old named Allison Ximena Valencia Madrid. She is from El Salvador. And the number has been her lifeline to family here in the United States. ProPublica's Ginger Thompson dialed that number. And she joins us now to share what she found. Ginger, thanks for being here.


MARTIN: Who did the phone number connect you to?

THOMPSON: So the phone number connected to Ximena's aunt, who lives in the Houston area and received that call. One morning, she says she was in bed. The phone rang. She answered it. And she heard Ximena's, you know, very distraught voice. And she says she fell out of bed and onto her knees because she hadn't heard from her niece or her sister in days and was worried about their crossing. But then she heard that Ximena was alone. Ximena was crying and pleading with the aunt to come pick her up because she was frightened, and she was alone.

MARTIN: So you then called the phone number and spoke with Ximena's aunt. And then you actually went to go meet her at her home. What was that conversation like?

THOMPSON: So we met in her apartment. And it was - it was a very, you know, somewhat relieved conversation. She had gotten the news that the president was retreating on his policy of separating families from children. And that was sort of a small hope that things might change for her niece. And while we were there, both the mother - Ximena's mother - and Ximena herself called. And so I was able to hear Ximena's voice again.

MARTIN: I mean, that's remarkable. They just happened to call at that moment separately.

THOMPSON: That's right. They happened to call. That number - the niece has regular phone calls from the shelter. Ximena has regular phone calls from the shelter. And so the person she calls is her aunt.

MARTIN: We actually have some sound of that because you were rolling a video recording of your conversation, and you were able to capture that moment when she called. Let's play some of that audio.


MARTIN: Can you walk us through what's happening there?

THOMPSON: Yeah. She's almost chirpy on the phone with her aunt. She speaks sort of - she has this rapid-fire way of speaking. She speaks in lists. And she - so they were asking, so how are you? And she starts talking - rattling off her activities of the day. And then she starts talking about what she wants to do when she gets out of there. You know, she wants pizza. She wants to go buy Shopkins. And she wants a bath. She says, do you have a bath tub? She says, yes, I have a bath tub. And then she tells her aunt, you're really going to need to bathe me because I'm going to come super dirty.

MARTIN: In that video that you took, in the recording, you also talk with her aunt about just the remarkable fact that Ximena had been able to memorize this phone number. Let's listen to that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: What's she saying there?

THOMPSON: Well, she's talking about how the consular official who made the call for Ximena said to her, you know, what a smart little girl you have because she was able to give us a phone number. She said so many of the children that we meet don't have information like phone numbers or can't remember, you know, where their parents are, don't know where their parents are. Some of them are so young they don't know their parents' full names.

MARTIN: Or can even talk, probably. Some of them are so young, they're not verbal yet.

THOMPSON: That's right. And if you hear the tape, you can hear some children who are screaming mami and papi over and over again when they're asked questions as if that's the only word they know. And so the fact that Ximena was able to give a phone number really helped authorities find her family and helps prevent her from getting lost in the system.

MARTIN: You mentioned that Ximena's mother happened to call in at that same time that you were meeting with Ximena's aunt. Have the two of them been able to speak? Has Ximena has been able to speak with her mom?

THOMPSON: Ximena has not been able to speak with her mom. And they've been in detention separately since middle - the middle of last week. And in all those days - and even though authorities know where both parent and child are, they haven't allowed the two of them to talk by telephone.

MARTIN: How do they sound? I mean, when you talk to Ximena's mom, how does she sound?

THOMPSON: You know, she goes up and down. She was - she's very - you know, very excited about the news from President Trump and from the White House but also very nervous about how this reunification was going to happen and, more than that, when it was going to happen because for her, it can't happen fast enough.

MARTIN: Right. Ginger Thompson with ProPublica, thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us and sharing these stories. We appreciate it.

THOMPSON: Thank you.


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