6-Year-Old Girl Heard Crying On ProPublica Tape Has Been Reunited With Her Mother
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The tape is heartbreaking and unforgettable. Six-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid pleads for someone to call her aunt after being separated from her mother at the U.S. border.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALISON JIMENA VALENCIA MADRID: (Speaking Spanish).
MARTIN: Well, Jimena has been reunited with her mother. On Friday morning at 3 a.m., mother and daughter saw each other for the first time in more than a month at the Houston airport. Our next guest, Ginger Thompson, was in Houston when they were reunited. She is a senior reporter at ProPublica, and she's been following Jimena and her mother's month-long separation, and she's with us now.
Ginger, thanks so much for speaking with us.
GINGER THOMPSON: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Before we get to the reunion, would you just remind us as briefly as you can why Jimena and her mother, Cindy Madrid, were separated to begin with? What happened to them after they were? Where were they held? Were they able to talk to each other at all over the course of that time?
THOMPSON: So Jimena and her mother crossed the border about a month and three or four days ago and were quickly intercepted by Border Patrol authorities, were quickly separated. Mother and daughter went in different directions. Mother went into a ICE detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas, and Jimena went to a shelter run by Health and Human Services in Phoenix. It was 10 days before they were able to speak to one another. They were able to speak two or three times a week. Jimena's mother tells me they tried to stay connected by coloring books. Jimena's mother would color a picture and tell her daughter about it and ask Jimena to color a picture that they'd share when they were reunited.
That reunification happened on Friday morning, 3 a.m. Jimena's mother was released from detention on a Wednesday. Twenty-four hours later, she's told that she can pick up her daughter at the Houston airport. She had to bolt in a car because there were no flights available to get to her daughter at the Houston Airport from South Texas, and Jimena waited in an airport passenger lounge until 3 a.m. for her mother to show up.
MARTIN: Wow. We're getting two very different versions of this whole process of reuniting children with their parents from whom they've been separated. The administration keeps insisting that this process is going well, that they say they're being praised for how efficiently it's going. And other people have a very different perspective on this. So I'd like to get your perspective as a person who's been following this very closely from the beginning.
THOMPSON: Well, my perspective, frankly, comes from watching Cindy and Jimena go through this process. The government talks about a very well-coordinated process for reuniting these families, but, in the 24 hours leading up to the reunification, Jimena's mother got four different accounts of how this is going to happen.
First, there was going to be a vetting of both mother and the people that she would live with, and that process was supposedly going to take up to two weeks. Then there was this waiving of the vetting process, and there was only going to be a DNA test and that the results of that test would take five days before perhaps mother and daughter would be reunited. And then, late on Thursday night, Cindy, the mother, gets a phone call saying there's going to be a drop-off, and her daughter's going to be brought to Houston.
So, in just the span of 24 hours, this reunification process became several different kinds of reunification processes. It's unclear that they knew exactly how this was going to happen until the very last minute.
MARTIN: As a person who watched this whole thing closely, though, do you think it's true that Cindy and Jimena were reunited faster partly because she was able to memorize that number - that she did know who her relatives were, she knew their names, she knew the phone number, and she was able to communicate that? Do you think that that was a factor in their being reunited? And, if so, what about kids who don't have a phone number?
THOMPSON: I think that's a very scary reality. I think that number was crucial. It's become clear to reporters covering this to a judge in San Diego who has been sort of ordering the government and setting deadlines for the government to reunify these children that there was no real plan for reunifying children. The government separated them without keeping records of which child belonged to which adults.
MARTIN: So what's next for Cindy and Jimena now that they are reunited?
THOMPSON: Well, they've got a long and probably uphill asylum fight ahead. Cindy has fled El Salvador fleeing gang violence. The administration has recently set very strict restrictions on whether people fleeing gang violence should qualify for asylum, so it's unclear that she will win this fight. But she's got a strong lawyer, and I think that lawyer will help her fight as hard as she can.
MARTIN: That's Ginger Thompson, senior reporter at ProPublica.
Ginger, thanks so much for talking with us.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
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