A heartrending audio recording surfaced on Monday of immigrant children crying inconsolably for their parents at a detention centre as a defiant President Donald Trump and his officials continued to defend the policy to separate them from families crossing into the United States illegally.
They asked for their “papi (Spanish for father)”, “mami (mother)” or a relative and some had telephone numbers that they pleaded with consular officials to call.
ProPublica, an investigative news publication that obtained the recording, called one of the numbers.
“It was the hardest moment in my life,” the relative, an aunt, said. “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 aunt added.
The nearly eight-minute recording shook a nation already reeling from images and news reports about children, some as young as two, being ripped from their parents and taken to detention centres, which are beginning to be described by critics as “cages”.
The recording played in White House’s news briefing room — by one of the reporters — before the start of the daily briefing at which Kirstjen Nielsen, head of the department that oversees immigration and border security, aggressively defended the policy and flatly denied what was happening to these children amounted to “child abuse”.
“We have high standards. We give them meals and we give them education and we give them medical care. There are videos, there are TVs,” Nielsen, secretary of the department of homeland security, said.
Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest in front of the Sandra Day O’Connor US District Court building, in Phoenix.
Nielsen, who has been in the crosshairs of the president, proceeded to lay the blame at the doorsteps of Democrats, arguing falsely as her boss that they should work with Republicans to fix loopholes in the nation’s immigration laws.
Critics have called that a cynical attempt to leverage the plight of these children to give Trump the tough immigration measures he has long advocated.
“The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places. We can’t allow that to happen to the United States. Not on my watch,” Trump said in a speech before the audio-recording began popping up.
Trump had also tweeted claiming earlier in the day — falsely once again — that Germany was witnessing a surge in crimes because of faulty immigration policies.
The US president is under increasing pressure from all quarters on his administration’s child-separation policy, within the party and outside, with all the surviving former first ladies weighing in among a whole host of leading personalities.
Rosalyn Carter, the wife of former Democratic president Jimmy Carter, became the newest and last of living former first ladies on Monday to make a rare policy intervention joining Laura Bush, wife of George W Bush, and Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama, to publicly oppose the Trump administration’s policy.
“When I was the first lady, I worked to call attention to the plight of refugees fleeing Cambodia for Thailand. I visited Thailand and witnessed firsthand the trauma of parents and children separated by circumstance beyond their control,” Carter said in a statement cited in the US media.