The VICE Guide to Right Now

This Is What Terrified Migrant Kids Separated from Their Parents Sound Like

On a recording obtained by ProPublica, a Border Patrol agent jokes about the "orchestra" of sound from screaming and crying children.
Photo via the US Customs and Border Patrol.

Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero tolerance" immigration policy that's separated some 2,000 immigrant children from their parents in the last six weeks, the general public has largely been left to wonder what's actually going on inside the facilities housing the unaccompanied minors. Even members of Congress were in at least some cases prevented from gaining entry, while attorneys and advocates for the detained offered harrowing portraits of life inside a broken system. On Monday, however, ProPublica published a heartbreaking piece of audio apparently taken from inside one of these detention centers, capturing the chaos and confusion that ensued when kids felt utterly and totally alone.


The audio was reportedly given to civil rights attorney Jennifer Harbury by one of her clients, who asked to remain anonymous, last week. For roughly eight excruciating minutes, you can hear the wails of young children crying out for their parents, confused consular workers trying to keep track of all the kids, and at least one male voice, identified as a Border Patrol officer, for some reason deciding to crack a joke about the whole thing.

“Well, we have an orchestra here," the man is heard saying at the beginning of the audio, in Spanish. "What’s missing is a conductor."

At one point, a voice identified as six-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid speaks up asking if she can call her aunt. According to ProPublica, the Salvadoran girl did manage to get a hold of her relative, but the woman said she was too afraid to put her own immigration status in jeopardy to intervene. She's managed to stay in touch with her niece, and the girl's mother, but noted the two haven't been able to speak to each other since they were separated.

"It was the hardest moment in my life," the aunt told ProPublica. "Imagine getting a call from your six-year-old niece. She’s crying and begging me to go get her. She says, 'I promise I’ll behave, but please get me out of here. I’m all alone.'"

The audio provides a gut-wrenching glimpse inside the dozens of shelters housing at least 10,000 unaccompanied minors across the country. And even after the sound stops, it's almost impossible to get the seemingly endless cries of unseen children out of your head, many of whom have no way of knowing if they'll ever be reunited with their families.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Follow Lauren Messman on Twitter.