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Jun 23, 2018

Ripped apart: Families separated at the border

Co-produced with PRX Logo

President Donald Trump said he was ending family separation at the border this week. But we’ve stayed on the story, investigating the issues that remain: children being drugged at migrant shelters, asylum-seekers being denied at ports of entry and the problems with Trump’s new detention plan.

We travel to New Orleans to hear what life is like inside one of the shelters throughout the country that hold migrant children. Reveal reporter Aura Bogado meets a mother and son who tell shocking stories of the treatment the children endured. And our team investigates what, if anything, the government has done about allegations of mistreatment.

Next, WHYY reporter Laura Benshoff examines one of the big lingering issues now that Trump has signed the executive order: How long can he keep immigrant children detained, even if they’re with their parents?

Benshoff follows a mother and son to understand why Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds kids for months, sometimes years, even though it’s technically illegal.

We talk to a pediatrician who cared for children in foster care who had been separated from their parents at the border. She talks about the trauma they might have experienced.

And, finally, Reveal’s Neena Satija crossed the international bridge that connects the Mexican border city of Matamoros with Brownsville, Texas. There, people are waiting, sleeping on the bridge, hoping for the opportunity to claim asylum, a claim that Trump’s zero-tolerance policy has made nearly impossible.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: Migrant children sent to shelters with histories of abuse allegations
  • Read: Immigrant children forcibly injected with drugs, lawsuit claims
  • Read: ICE lawyer says agency’s role in separating families limited to transport

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
rev Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson: From The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson, and what a week. Images of tent encampments on the US Mexico border, children being taken from their mothers and fathers, and then this audio from ProPublica, well, just left me speechless. As their cries rang out the nation took note.
Speaker 7: [foreign language 00:00:26].
Al Letson: Politicians spoke up.
Speaker 2: We stand here doing nothing as innocent little babies sit in modern day camps. That's not right, it's not fair, and it's not just.
Al Letson: Activists took to the streets.
Speaker 1: There's only one word that goes through my mind. It's shame. Shame on them.
Al Letson: But the administration has the fight.
Speaker 3: If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you.
Speaker 4: Parents who entered illegally are by definition criminals.
Speaker 5: And they can be murderers, thieves-
Speaker 6: Ladies and gentlemen, at this moment, this is America. This is us, this is what we are doing.
Al Letson: Until under the weight of public outcry, the president changed course.
Trump: And by the way, today I signed an executive order. We're going to keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough as it's been.
Speaker 8: [foreign language 00:01:33].
Al Letson: President Trump may have signed an order ending family separation at the border, but many families remain apart, and many questions unanswered. Where were the children taken? How are they doing? And what will it look like to detain parents and kids together? As President Trump plans to do. We start with our immigration reporter, Aura Bogado, who's in New Orleans. Aura, good to talk to you.
Aura Bogado: Hey, Al. It's really good to hear your voice.
Al Letson: Okay, so why are you in New Orleans and not sitting next to me at work?
Aura Bogado: I'm here in New Orleans spending time with a family that lives here. There a Garifuna family from Honduras, and for people who aren't familiar with what that means, they're indigenous black people from Honduras. The mom's name is Maribel Bernardez, and we're not using her son's real name for this story. We're gonna call him Jose.
Al Letson: And why aren't we using his real name?
Aura Bogado: Well, he's dealt with some pretty significant trauma since he's been in the US. For one, he was separated from his mom for a really long time.
Al Letson: And how old is he?
Aura Bogado: Jose's 10. He just turned 10 in February.
Al Letson: Tell me about Jose. What is he like?
Aura Bogado: Jose is a really silly. He kept grabbing my microphone and whistling. Trying to make me laugh.
Maribel: [foreign language 00:02:51].
Aura Bogado: And he's very attentive. He tried to help me with my backpack, wanted to make sure I had enough water to drink, that I wasn't thirsty, and he likes to make like these little jokes and he's just ... He's really sweet and he's just a really nice kid.
Al Letson: So he's clearly been reunited with his mom. Were they separated at the border?
Aura Bogado: Well, not exactly. Jose came here with his cousin seeking asylum, and he wanted to be reunited with his mom who was already here in the US, and he was detained at the border, and he was eventually put into the care of a temporary shelter, like the ones that we've heard so much about recently. And he had his own bed, and he really describes that place mostly as a positive experience. But then because of certain behaviors, like saying he wanted to leave and trying to run away, he was evaluated by a psychiatrist. And then ORR, which is the Office of Refugee Resettlement, sent him to a place called the Shiloh Treatment Center.
Al Letson: So where is his mom in all of this?
Aura Bogado: His mom is right here in New Orleans, and she had been desperately trying to reunite with him for months. I've looked through hundreds of pages of records that Maribel has kept from the time that he was there, just begging with the staff to please allow him to be released to her care. She's saying, "I am his mother. Please give me back my son."
Al Letson: So she's trying to connect with him and he's stuck in this treatment center. Tell me about this place.
Aura Bogado: Shiloh is officially designated a residential treatment center. They have a contract with the federal government to care for unaccompanied minors.

 

Al Letson: Like the kids that we're hearing about who are now being separated from their parents?

 

Aura Bogado: Potentially, yeah. They could be the kinds of kids that end up at Shiloh. This place is right outside Houston. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere, it's a tiny town called Manville.

 

Maribel: [foreign language 00:04:57].

 

Jose: [foreign language 00:04:59].

 

Aura Bogado: When I met with the family, I brought with me some printed out Google street map images of properties that we knew to be associated with Shiloh, and I wanted to see if Jose would talk because I knew that he'd been through a lot. By that time he had already told me that he was physically hit by one of the staffers there. He told me that this happened very often. He also told me that all of the other staffers saw it happened and nobody ever intervened in any way to help him, and so I wasn't sure if he would really talk to me much about what he'd been through, but I found the exact opposite. He really did want to talk and he wanted to tell me about the place, he wanted to tell me about what he experienced.

 

Jose: [foreign language 00:05:46].

 

Aura Bogado: So here we hear Jose is saying, "That's the place, that's where I was."

 

Jose: [foreign language 00:05:53].

 

Aura Bogado: That school, it's a trailer. That hospital, it's a trailer. It's just a trailer that doesn't have wheels on it.

 

Jose: [foreign language 00:06:04].

 

Aura Bogado: And here's what his mom, Maribel, told me about her impressions of the place. She finally got to see it for herself when she went to pick him up in April.

 

Maribel: [foreign language 00:06:15].

 

Voice-over: It's out in the woods where they have them. It's a horrible place. It's not a place suitable for minors, it's not a building where a child should be. I imagined it a better place where my child would have therapy. A place to play, to get over his trauma, but in those words he became more traumatized.

 

Maribel: [foreign language 00:06:40].

 

Aura Bogado: While I was spending time at their house this week, Maribel told me that she wanted to share something with me that she kept in the kitchen cabinet. And so she tells Jose, go over there and get the medications.

 

Maribel: [foreign language 00:06:58].

 

Aura Bogado: And so Jose runs and he gets this giant plastic bag full of pill bottles. This bag is literally overflowing. It's full of medications.

 

Maribel: [foreign language 00:07:20].

 

Voice-over: This one is also from the psychiatrist. This is another one also from the psychiatrist. They gave him all of these drugs at the center where they had him.

 

Aura Bogado: Jose was medicated the entire time that he was at Shiloh. Nearly six months. They never had his mother's permission.

 

Al Letson: Why has he been given all this medicine in the first place without her consent? I mean, is he sick?

 

Aura Bogado: Jose was nine when he got to the US. He had never taken any medication like this in his entire life, but he told me that at Shiloh he was given it all the time and that it made him feel really slow. And from everything that I know from my reporting on this, this is what happens to immigrant children at Shiloh. They stand in line and they take their medications every morning and every night, and that description comes from Jose. He stood up when we were talking and he made his hands like a line, and he said, "There were these little sippy cups and the children would come and just take their medicine one by one, morning and night."

 

Al Letson: And his mother, Maribel, did not okay this.

 

Aura Bogado: No, she was absolutely against this. I asked her that question, too. Did you authorize any of this medication?

 

[foreign language 00:08:40].

 

Maribel: [foreign language 00:08:49].

 

Voice-over: I never authorized it. In fact, when I found out he was so sleepy, like hypnotized, inarticulate, I called and I asked his staff person if they could take away that medication and she told me no. No one can take away that medication because it has been prescribed by the doctor, and that my child needed it. And I asked her, "Can I not as the mother decide for my child not to be given all that medication?" And she said that no one could discontinue the medication, only the doctor. She said it just like that.

 

Al Letson: Aura, Jose said other immigrant kids at Shiloh were also being drugged. Do we have any documentation to prove that?

 

Aura Bogado: What Jose described to me is pretty well documented by some legal filings that we dug up. They were just filed in April and they described some of the broader allegations from other Shiloh families. Kids describe being held down and injected against their will. They're told that they're receiving vitamins. They're told that they won't be released unless they accept this medication. The side effects are rampant. Kids say that they've had freakish weight gain. They come in at a normal weight and they put on 50, maybe 60 pounds over the span of just a few months, and others say they can't even walk because of the dizziness that they experience from the medication that they're put on. One young girl said that she fell and she ended up in a wheelchair because she was so drugged that she simply couldn't walk.

 

Al Letson: Wow. As a parent I just ... I just really don't know what to say here. How is Jose now?

 

Aura Bogado: You know, Al, I want to let you know that the forced drugging is just part of this story. Like I mentioned, Jose was physically hit there. That's what he told us, and he'll probably be dealing with that part alone for a really long time. We've also found that one child died at Shiloh.

 

Al Letson: This place has a contract with the US government. Does the government know that all of this is happening?

 

Aura Bogado: Yes. The problems at Shiloh has been widely reported in Texas. It's so bad that the local DA complained to the federal government to try to get them to monitor Shiloh more closely, and this was years ago, Al. And it's not just Shiloh, in nearly every national case reviewed by Reveal and the Texas Tribune, we found that federal officials continued contracting for years with these companies to continue to operate shelters for undocumented children. Even following really serious incidents and citations by state officials.

 

Al Letson: Because this is a government contract at place, that means it's being paid with public money. So how much are taxpayers spending on places like Shiloh?

 

Aura Bogado: It's a pretty penny. The federal government started funding Shiloh in 2013. Since then, it's paid the company more than $25,000,000. Shiloh has a contract through the year 2020.

 

Al Letson: So what's gonna happen to Jose and Maribel now?

 

Aura Bogado: Maribel is so happy to be reunited with her son and Jose told me the same thing. He's just really happy to be with his mom. Meanwhile, they both have pending asylum cases and as some of our listeners may know, attorney general Jeff Sessions just very recently made it a lot harder for people who are fleeing domestic violence and gang violence to be granted asylum, and that's specifically with their cases go to, so we don't really know what's next for them.

 

Al Letson: Aura Bogado, thank you so much.

 

Aura Bogado: Thanks, Al.

 

Al Letson: Aura reached out to Shiloh for this story, but they wouldn't talk to her. And one more thing, the amount of money to pay for places like Shiloh across the country is staggering. Taxpayers have paid more than 1.5 billion dollars in the past four years. Private companies operating immigrant youth shelters that have been accused of serious lapses in care. That includes neglect, sexual and physical abuse. You can read Aura's reporting and our full investigation on our website at revealnews.org.

 

Not all Little children separated from their parents are put in shelters and treatment centers like Jose. Some of them are being taken in by foster parents. Many of them under four years old, and like any toddler, they get sick and need to see a doctor.

 

Tara Neubrand: So I wound up seeing three kids who were brought in by their foster families. They came in really for very mild childhood illnesses. Vomiting, dehydration, rashes, colds, those kinds of things.

 

Al Letson: That's Tara Neubrand, a pediatric ER doctor in Denver. She says it's not unusual to see foster kids in the hospital. Most of them don't have regular pediatricians, but it wasn't long before she noticed something deeper going on. She learned from the foster mother's that these toddlers had been taken by immigration officials from their biological parents.

 

Tara Neubrand: Yeah, so in all these cases when I was trying to examine the kid, I put my hands on their back, rubbed her back, [foreign language 00:14:27]. And often times the kids will turn around, and look at me, and smile or relax a little bit. That just wasn't happening. They just didn't have any interest in anything. I said to them in whatever language it was.

 

They were sitting in their foster mother's laps. All of them. They had their chest on their foster mother's chests and they had their arms just wrapped so tightly around their foster mother's necks that they just could not be separated from those women. It was so striking, it was so different that I asked these families if this was normal, if this was different behavior, if they were doing this at home, you know, what was going on. And in all three cases, they absolutely could not be put down by their foster mothers. They had to be held all the time, and physical contact all the time, and that's not normal.

 

Al Letson: Can you describe them individually for me?

 

Tara Neubrand: The first one I saW was a little boy between one and two. His foster mother told me that he was from Guatemala. He was a tiny little thing with brown hair, just a really sweet looking kid. He's just one I remember really well because when I was asking the foster mom what was going on and if he was acting this way at home, she got really teary eyed talking to me and she just kept repeating over and over, "I'm just trying not to ruin his life. I'm just trying not to ruin his life." I mean, this kid would yell out papa, papa, papa all the time and she couldn't help him. She didn't know where his papa was. She didn't know if this kid had any siblings, or if he would be reunited with his father, or when he would see him again, or when he might communicate with them. She didn't know anything.

 

Al Letson: So how did they communicate?

 

Tara Neubrand: None of the foster family spoke Spanish. That was hard on them as well because they were trying to comfort the kids, and just weren't really able to do so.

 

Al Letson: Just to be clear, we're talking about toddlers that had been taken from their parents and they're being placed in homes with foster families that don't speak the same language as they do?

 

Tara Neubrand: Right. That is correct, yes. The foster mother's that I interacted with did not speak Spanish. I remember the first one I saw when she was hugging the little boy. She'd hug him and say, "mijo, mijo," because she knew that that's an affectionate term in Spanish, but that's pretty much it. I mean, she couldn't communicate in any kind of reliable way in Spanish.

 

Al Letson: What about the other two?

 

Tara Neubrand: Yeah. So the third kid that I saw was a little girl from Guatemala. She was really withdrawn, and when I asked her foster mom if she was acting like this at home, she asked me if I had any suggestions about how she could bathe her. This little girl would scream and cry.

 

  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
  Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 - 00:36:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Tara Neubrand: ... girl would scream and cry every time this mom would tried to put her down, so she couldn't put her down, even in the bathtub.

 

She told me that if it were her biologic child, she would just get in the bathtub with the kid. But as a foster mother, that's not something that she's allowed to do.

 

This child had gone through so much trauma and was so upset and shocked that basic hygiene issues were thing that just weren't able to be reliably taken care of, for her even with someone who was really trying to do so.

 

Al Letson: Were you able to help them at all, as far as their mental and emotional state?

 

Tara Neubrand: Not really. I mean, I ... Not really. I was pretty useless. It was pretty awful. There was really nothing I could do to help these kids. I could treat their vomiting, I could treat their rash, but that wasn't their problem.

 

Al Letson: What was their problem?

 

Tara Neubrand: Their problem was that they missed their parents, and that they weren't with their parents.

 

Al Letson: As hard as seeing that is, do you think that those children are actually the lucky ones because they're with a foster family, oppose to being in these detention centers?

 

Tara Neubrand: I think the argument is they're the lucky ones. I get that argument, but it just isn't enough. It's not enough to take care of the body of a kid without taking care of their heart and their brain.

 

Al Letson: Dr. Neubrand, thank you so much for talking to us.

 

Tara Neubrand: I appreciate you guys getting the story out.

 

Al Letson: Tara Neubrand is an emergency room pediatrician in Denver, Colorado. As of now, the administration does not have plans to reunite kids with their parents. But for new families crossing the border, it wants to keep them together. Possibly, for a long time. So what might that look like?

 

Speaker 9: Good afternoon.

 

Lorena: Buenos trades.

 

Carlos: Buenos trades.

 

Al Letson: When we come back, we meet a little boy from Honduras who knows first hand. That's next on Reveal. From the center for investigative reporting and PRX.

 

From the center for investigative reporting in PRX, this is reveal. I'm Al Letson. This hour we've been talking about families at the U.S. boarder who are seeking asylum. Boarder agents were separating kids from their parents, that was until President Trump reversed course just a few days ago. He signed an executive order to stop this from happening and called for kids and parents to be detained together, potentially for long periods of time. We know something about what that would look like because under President Obama, some children and parents were held for a really long time.

 

On our show last year we brought you the story of Lorena and her son Carlos. Now, we're not using their real names because Lorena's afraid immigration authorities will punish her for speaking about her time in detention. We're re-airing the story because it shows what the kind of long term detention Trump is proposing is actually like for families. Lorena and Carlos were in a detention center when they appeared before an immigration judge in York, Pennsylvania last August.

 

Speaker 9: Alright, we're on the record.

 

Lorena: [foreign langauge 00:21:37].

 

Al Letson: The court's audio recording is a little crackly.

 

Speaker 9: Good afternoon.

 

Lorena: Buenos Tardes.

 

Carlos: Buenos trades.

 

Al Letson: On the right side of the court room a large lat screen TV shows Lorena and Carlos sitting at a small white table. They're video conferences in from a federal immigrant detention facility about an hours drive from where the judge sits. Carlos is four years old. His front teeth are missing and he's got deep dimples. His head barely reaches the top of the chair. Judge [inaudible 00:22:05] compliments Carlos on dressing up and slicking down his hair.

 

Judge: You're looking good, I like the suit you're wearing.

 

Al Letson: The judge will decide whether to release Lorena and her son. Family's lawyer, Bridget Cambria, tells the court that she's requested their release many times, but ICE always pushes back.

 

Bridget Cambria: We are completely at the behest of ICE and they have refused to release them for 650 days for no particular reason.

 

Al Letson: That's six hundred and 50 days, nearly half of Carlos' life. ICE's attorney, John Staples, argues that because they were caught near the boarder they have fewer rights. Carlos barely pays attention, head down he scribbles on a piece of paper until the judge interrupts him.

 

Judge: Are you coloring?

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:22:47].

 

Carlos: Si.

 

Lorena: Si?

 

Al Letson: Lorena and Carlos are hoping this judge will free them. We're gonna tell you what happened in the court that day. Reporter, Laura Benshoff of WHYY of Philadelphia was there. She's been following this family to try and understand why the U.S. keeps coming back to family detention and what it does to kids. Here's Laura.

 

Laura Benshoff: When I first talked with Carlos' mother, Lorena, back in March 2017 ICE had detained them for about a year and a half at the Berks family residential center, 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia. ICE doesn't let me record inside so we talk on the phone with an interpreter's help.

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:23:36].

 

Laura Benshoff: Lorena says visitors may not see barbed wire fences or bars on the windows, but it feels like a prison because they're always being watched, and as a mother she feels powerless.

 

Interpreter: There are some days, a lot of days when my kid tells me, "Mom let's leave. Let's get out of here. I don't want to be here." Then he asks me, "When can we leave?" I don't have an answer because I don't know when.

 

Laura Benshoff: The place, all beige and linoleum, used to be a nursing home. Inside, the days melt together, wake up then breakfast in the cafeteria, usually processed stuff. For the kids there's school in the classroom wing during the spring and fall. The center pays the adult detainees $1 a day to do manual work like cleaning the common rooms. At night, guards check the bedrooms every 15 minutes shining their flashlights over the families. As many as three families share each bedroom. To lift their spirits, Lorena and the other women created a ritual, 10 am prayer service in the detention center's small chapel.

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:24:46].

 

Interpreter: I'm Evangelical and I think that if I didn't look for God like I do everyday here, it would be hard to go on.

 

Laura Benshoff: Lorena started leading the daily worship service after ICE deported the woman who used to do it. In some ways, Lorena's path from Honduras to the United States was typical. She and Carlos fled after a gang threatened them.

 

Lorena: [foreign langauge 00:25:14].

 

Interpreter: They started to break in and take my stuff. The truth is that sometimes simply by being a single mother you become an easy target for them.

 

Laura Benshoff: They requested asylum, the first part of that process is an interview. The month Lorena and Carlos arrived nearly 80% of people got through that test and continued to the next stage. This is where their story gets way less typical. Lorena says the officers who assessed her claim were openly skeptical.

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:25:46].

 

Interpreter: They told me, "Don't make up stories," because they don't believe. They don't believe what's happening in our country.

 

Laura Benshoff: The asylum officer denied Lorena's claim on the first go around. In most cases that would have meant deportation to Honduras. In their case, the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in. It saw what happened as part of a disturbing trend. The federal government rejecting valid asylum claims and decided to fight it. On behalf of Lorena, Carlos and about 30 other mothers and children, the ACLU sued the federal government to try to get a second look at their asylum claims. That was in 2015. Carlos, barely three when he and his mother arrived, turned four years old inside the Berks Family Residential Center.

 

Detention for immigrant kids like Carlos is supposed to be limited. It isn't supposed to drag on and on. That's because of a big class action settlement from the mid 1990's where the government agreed to treat detained kids humanely and to keep their detentions short. During the Obama administration ICE tried to get around that agreement. It began holding kids by themselves and kids with their parents much longer than before. As family detentions in Pennsylvania stretched into weeks, then months, then more than a year, local advocacy groups started protesting outside the center.

 

Speaker 10: [foreign laugage 00:27:17] [crosstalk 00:27:22].

 

Laura Benshoff: U.S. senators wrote letters urging the department of homeland security to release the families. Global human rights organizations condemned the U.S. over family detention. One reason for all this criticism, there's evidence that living in detention is by itself bad for children. Psychotherapist Kathy Miller is one of several who visits the Berk center to evaluate detainees when their lawyers request it. She's met with a half dozen kids there. One seven year old's symptoms have really stuck with her.

 

Kathy Miller: Any time any kind of trauma discussion happened he would run laps around the tiny table we sat at and then jump up and slap the wall really loudly. That right there, it's so common for kids ...

 

Laura Benshoff: This kind of distraction is a classic sign of post traumatic stress disorder in kids, Kathy says. And this boy's mother said that over and over he wrapped an lanyard around his neck like a noose and said he wanted to kill himself. Kathy drew out that he was terrified of returning to El Salvador, where gangs had targeted his father and he'd seen the bodies of family friends they'd killed. By Kathy's second visit he'd been there for a year and a half. She says he'd gotten worse, not better.

 

Kathy Miller: There is a direct correlation between the length of time that a child is in detention and worsening symptoms.

 

Laura Benshoff: ICE deported that boy and his mother last May. As for Carlos, he cries a lot. He hides under the bed when kids he's gotten close to are released or deported. An outside psychologist has never evaluated him, but Lorena did see one who diagnosed her with depression. In that evaluation, Lorena admitted she sometimes thinks about killing herself. Since 2005, at least eight people in ICE detention have committed suicide. Over the phone, Lorena tells me she's feeling anxious.

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:29:25].

 

Interpreter: I'm stressed. I have gained a lot of weight. I can't sleep at night.

 

Laura Benshoff: There's an in house psychologist at Berks, Lorena says she doesn't trust him. That distrust carries over to other problems. In court documents, the women in the Berk center complained the staff and nurses routinely downplayed their medical concerns, like the parasite and painful cavities that bothered Carlos. Lorena says, he suffered for awhile before getting treatment.

 

Interpreter: I think four months, three to four months. He'd have pain for a few days then it would stop. Then it would come back.

 

Laura Benshoff: Officials with ICE wouldn't talk to me for this story, but they did write responses to some of my questions. In a statement, an agency spokesman said, "comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment the families arrive throughout their entire stay at the center".

 

Immigration lawyers and other advocates brought detainees complaints to a Berks county commissioners meeting in 2016.

 

Carolanne D.: Speaking of medical issues ...

 

Laura Benshoff: During the public comment period, attorney Carolanne Donohoe recited a list of problems.

 

Carolanne D.: We have the distinction at Berks of having the only rape conviction of the three family detention centers.

 

Laura Benshoff: Berks county wants to keep the center open. ICE pays the county to run it day to day. In return, the region gets more than 60 jobs and the county government pulls in an extra million dollars a year in revenue. County commissioner Kevin Barnhart told the audience the detainees complaints don't tell the whole story.

 

Kevin Barnhart: These folks are given medical care, dental care, psychological care. We have been inspected more than any facility in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the last two years.

 

Laura Benshoff: This meeting ended abruptly when the commissioners and the lawyers began shouting at each other.

 

Kevin Barnhart: Instead of pro bono. You're not pro bono everyone ...

 

Carolanne D.: Yes we are! [crosstalk 00:31:31].

 

Kevin Barnhart: Please.

 

Carolanne D.: I'm sorry we need to [crosstalk 00:31:33].

 

Kevin Barnhart: [crosstalk 00:31:33] motion to adjourn. [crosstalk 00:31:36].

 

Carolanne D.: Here is the evidence.

 

Kevin Barnhart: Motion to adjourn.

 

Laura Benshoff: Beyond Berks county, ICE is one of the agencies responsible for dealing with families and unaccompanied kids who show up at the boarder. Detention is part of its strategy.

 

Joseph: It works. It was made as a deterrent.

 

Laura Benshoff: Joseph [inaudible 00:31:55]'s retired from ICE. He supervised the Berk center when it first opened more than a decade ago. He says officials want people in detention to tell relatives back home how hard it is to get into this country.

 

Joseph: You'd hope they'd get on the phone and say don't ... call Honduras and say they're putting people in jail now.

 

Laura Benshoff: Matt O'Brien, a former attorney for ICE offers another reason for family detention. It keeps people in one location while the federal government weighs their asylum claims.

 

Matt O'Brien: If ICE has to go looking for people it drastically reduces the number of people it is able to remove from the U.S. in a timely fashion.

 

Laura Benshoff: These days, Matt works for FAIR, the federation of American immigration reform. They lobby to restrict all immigration to the U.S. some affairs leaders have been tied to white supremacists. When President Trump took office, he appointed FAIR's executive director to a top post in U.S. customs and boarder protection. The Trump administration wants immigrant detention, but after years of court battles, in 2017 federal judges ruled that ICE can't detain kids for longer than 20 days and if ICE wouldn't free them they could go before an immigration judge to plead their case. This is what Lorena and Carlos had waited for and it's what landed them in that court hearing we heard at the beginning of the story.

 

Speaker 11: Alright so I'll ask again, both parties submit for a decision?

 

Speaker 12: The government does yes.

 

Speaker 11: Miss Cambria?

 

Laura Benshoff: During detention, Carlos had received a special visa just for kids that creates a path for him to stay in the country, but there's no guarantee his mom can stay. After he sifted through all the legal arguments, the judge invited Carlos to chime in.

 

Carlos: [foreign language 00:33:47].

 

Lorena: I want to go with my mom.

 

Judge: Alright. So my ruling is as follows, I do find that this court has jurisdiction over custody preceding involving this minor. I find that the respondent should be released on his own recognizance.

 

Laura Benshoff: The judge released them both.

 

Judge: The court is gonna release the mother to accompany the respondent and ...

 

Laura Benshoff: Lorena grabbed for a tissue.

 

Speaker 13: Thank you judge, thank you judge.

 

Judge: You're very welcome.

 

Carlos: Thank you judge!

 

Lorena: Thank you, thank you.

 

Judge: You're welcome, you're welcome.

 

Laura Benshoff: They left the Berk center that same day. That night they celebrated with pizza and carne asada at a Mexican restaurant.

 

A couple of months after their release I visited Lorena and Carlos where they were staying in Indianapolis.

 

Lorena: Hola.

 

Laura Benshoff: Hola!

 

Lorena: Come in!

 

Laura Benshoff: They share a two story house with a family they knew from Honduras. The family supports them while Lorena waits for the government's permission to work. She shows me their new room in the basement, joking, "It's too messy for pictures".

 

Lorena: No camera.

 

Laura Benshoff: No camera?

 

Lorena: No camera, no.

 

Laura Benshoff: There's a mound of cartoon character blankets on the bed. A small refrigerator and some dirty laundry cascading from a hamper. Most importantly though, she says, there's privacy. Nobody else comes there.

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:35:18].

 

Carlos: [foreign language 00:35:20].

 

Laura Benshoff: Carlos hovers close to his mom, playing a game on a tablet or burrowing under the blankets and squealing. They share the same good humor, but also the lingering effects of detention.

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:35:33].

 

Interpreter: When I first left the detention center I was still very confused. It was hard to put everything in order in my mind.

 

Laura Benshoff: Lorena lifts the leg of her pink jeans to reveal a black plastic ankle monitor.

 

Lorena: [foreign language 00:35:48].

 

Interpreter: I feel good here, I really do. But I am always being watched.

 

Laura Benshoff: That keeps her from feeling truly free. Carlos acts like a goofball sometimes, but his mood swings are intense.

 

  Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 - 00:36:04]
  Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 - 00:51:09]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Laura Benshoff: ... swings are intense.

 

Interpreter: [Spanish 00:36:04] I think it has to do with the tension. Before, he cried a lot. Now it's changed into anger.

 

Laura Benshoff: That's not all they have to contend with. Lorena's immigration status is in limbo. She doesn't have a good case for legal residence in this country, and since their release, ICE has appealed to a higher court, arguing that they should be detained again.

 

Interpreter: [Spanish 00:36:30] It makes me angry. We were locked up for 22 months, and they're still fighting for us not to be free.

 

Laura Benshoff: ICE is still fighting to rearrest Lorena and Carlos.

 

Al Letson: That story from WHYY's Laura Benchoff with reveal producer, Laura Starecheski. Since it first aired on our show last fall, Lorena has gotten her work permit. Today, the [Burke 00:37:03] Center still holds families, but has been keeping them for shorter period. If the Trump Administration gets its way, that will likely change. What about families who want to ask for asylum in the US now? Well, many of hem are stuck at the border, waiting for customs and border protection to let them through.

 

Speaker 14: [Spanish 00:37:26] They've told us that it's full inside, and they can't accept us.

 

Al Letson: That story next on Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. We end this hour about people trying to cross into the US at the border itself. Matamoros, Mexico is a border town. It's just across from Brownsville, Texas. Between those two cities, those two worlds, really, there's a bridge about a quarter of a mile long crossing the Rio Grande.

 

Thousands of people cross this bridge every day to work, to visit family and friends on one side or the other. It's casual, routine. But for many others, this bridge is the last hurdle in a perilous journey. It separates people from persecution on one side and the promise of a new life on the other. Neena Satija from our partners at the Texas Tribune spent the last few days crossing back and forth. She met people who are hoping to claim asylum in the US, but they're stuck on the bridge. Neena takes the story from here.

 

Tara Neubrand: One way to seek asylum in the United States is to come to a port of entry. It could be an airport, or it could be a bridge, like this one. To cross into the US on foot, you stick to the right, following the sidewalk until you get to one of those old fashioned turnstiles. Even for pedestrians, it's a toll bridge. It's just a quarter or a handful of pesos to get through, and now you're on the bridge, crossing a covered walkway toward the US. Through a chain link fence to the right is the Rio Grande, muddy and brown. To the left, four lanes of traffic, and ahead, on the other side of the bridge, is this little building, the processing station in Brownsville.

 

That's your way in. All you have to do is walk across. Except this week, three agents from customs and border protection are posted smack in the middle of the bridge. They're standing behind a podium with a simple sign taped to the front, black ink on white paper, a phrase in Spanish that translates to prepare your documents for inspection. If you don't have documents and you want to ask for asylum, you have to wait. [Spanish 00:40:03] Marcos Samayoa is one of about 15 people camping out here.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:40:11] Well, I'm here asking for asylum. I've been here for two days. Some of the other people, they've been here longer.

 

Tara Neubrand: Over the past week, reports like this have been surfacing all along the Texas/Mexico border. The situation leaves people like Marcos in a tricky spot. He can wait outside in the elements for who knows how long, or he can give up and go back.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:40:35] They've told us that it's full inside, and they can't accept us.

 

Tara Neubrand: Marcos is from Guatemala. He has shaggy, dark hair. He's wearing jeans and gray t-shirt. He's 22, but the bags under his big, brown eyes make him look much older. When I meet Marcos, President Trump's family separation policy is still in effect, and his wife and four children are caught in the fray.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:41:04] They separated them. She's in one place, and my kids are in another. [Spanish 00:41:12]

 

Tara Neubrand: That's all he knows. As soon as they could pull together enough money for the trip, the family traveled to the US ahead of him to claim asylum. Marcos tells me he had a small business selling a dish called ceviche in Guatemala, but gangs threatened to harm his family. He says they tried to extort money that he couldn't pay, and that asylum was his family's best option.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:41:36] The truth is, I don't regret it. If I would've stayed there, they would've killed one of my children, or they would've killed me.

 

Tara Neubrand: Over and over again, Marcos circles back to a list of unknowns. He doesn't know why he can't cross the bridge. He doesn't know where his wife is, where his kids are, and he doesn't have a phone to find any of that out. So, I offer him one. His fingers are shaky as he types in the numbers.

 

Marcos Samayoa: Hello. I'm Carlos. Hello. I'm Carlos. [Spanish 00:42:08] They gave me this call, these reporters, just to let you know that I'm here at the bridge, and that I'm staying here because they're not letting me in. That's it, and that I'm good. I'm good. Do you know anything about [Sandy 00:42:25]? [Spanish 00:42:27]

 

Tara Neubrand: Sandy's his wife. A few moments after he asks that, his face relaxes.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:42:35]

 

Tara Neubrand: Marcos tells us there's good news. From what he understands, Sandy has been granted asylum. By now, the sun is beating down, and it's humid. Marcos's gray t-shirt is stuck to his skin. People crossing the border are dropping off food and water. After spending a few hours on the bridge, I tell Marcos goodbye. Then I show my American passport to the customs and border protection agent who tells me I can go through an express line into the US.

 

Speaker 15: [Spanish 00:43:14]

 

Tara Neubrand: Okay. It all feels strangely easy. On my way out, it starts raining, and then it starts pouring. [inaudible 00:43:32] Later that night, I get a call I don't expect. [Spanish 00:43:44] Neena.

 

Hilda Aldana: [Spanish 00:43:46]

 

Tara Neubrand: It's from Hilda Aldana, Marcos's mother-in-law. She saved the number that Marcos called from earlier. Hilda says, “There's been a miscommunication about Marcos's wife.” She's not clear on the details, but her understanding is that the government did not accept the asylum application. Marcos's wife will have to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, she's stuck at an immigration detention center in Port Isabel, Texas, and Hilda tells me Marcos's children are at a shelter two states away in Arizona.

 

Hilda Aldana: [Spanish 00:44:26]

 

Tara Neubrand: Hilda says her daughter Sandy has never been separated from her kids, that it's destroying her, and that Sandy has a message for Marcos.

 

Hilda Aldana: [Spanish 00:44:44]

 

Tara Neubrand: That message from Marcos's wife, “Don't turn yourself in at the bridge. Turn back. We've come to this place only to suffer.” But it's raining too hard, and there are tornado warnings. I can't go to the bridge now. I tell Hilda I'll try to pass along the message in the morning.

 

Hilda Aldana: [Spanish 00:45:22]

 

Tara Neubrand: The next day, I make my way toward the halfway point of the bridge. Oh, my god. Marcos is still there. You see him? He's still there. There was thunder and lightning most of the night, sideways rain and flooding. I really didn't think Marcos would still be here. He's still wearing the same gray t-shirt, jeans. Hola, Marcos.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:45:53]

 

Tara Neubrand: [Spanish 00:45:54]

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:45:56]

 

Tara Neubrand: [Spanish 00:45:56]

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:45:57]

 

Tara Neubrand: I take a deep breath and tell Marcos about the call from his mother-in-law. [Spanish 00:46:04] I hand him a cellphone so he can call her.

 

Marcos Samayoa: Hello? Hello? [Spanish 00:46:18]

 

Tara Neubrand: There's a long pause, then he clicks his tongue.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:46:28]

 

Tara Neubrand: Marcos's eyes fill with tears. His face gets a little red. I assume he now knows what I know, that his wife has not gotten asylum.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:46:41]

 

Tara Neubrand: When Marcos hangs up, I ask him what he's gonna do.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:46:50]

 

Tara Neubrand: [Spanish 00:46:50]

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:46:50]

 

Tara Neubrand: He's still gonna try. He says he has no other options.

 

Marcos Samayoa: [Spanish 00:47:00]

 

Tara Neubrand: “It's not fair,” he says. “I've been waiting here for so many days.” After a few minutes, Marcos isn't even sure anymore. If the US is gonna deport his family anyway, maybe he will return to Guatemala. I wish him the best of luck, walk towards the customs and border protection agents, and show them my passport.

 

Speaker 16: Thank you.

 

Tara Neubrand: Thank you. I'm on the US side of the bridge, and I'll leave Marcos behind.

 

Al Letson: That story was from Neena Satija at the Texas Tribune. It was produced by Fernanda Camarena and Juan Luis Garcia contributed reporting. The next morning, Marcos wasn't on the bridge. We don't know if he was allowed to cross over, or if he turned back. In fact, the only people there, customs and border protection agents, still standing at the halfway point. Marcos and the children we talked to this hour are seeking asylum from Central America, places like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They're fleeing gang violence, drug lords, and political unrest.

 

Now, some people ask, “Why should their problems become our problems? Why should we be responsible for their safety?” I'd like to argue that helping other is a principle this country is supposed to stand for. Give me your tired, your poor, et cetera, but maybe that's going too far for some people. Okay, but then there's this. The US has never had a problem crossing their borders and meddling with their affairs, and to some degree, it played a hand in the chaos these asylum-seekers are trying to escape.

 

In El Salvador, we propped up a brutal regime. In Guatemala, we overthrew a Democratically-elected government to help American corporations, and that pattern extended across the region. These people are living in the aftermath of US policy from decades ago. History has a gravity that we can't escape, and these asylum-seekers are force to live with it, and so are we.

 

This week's show was produced by Laura Starecheski, Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, Fernanda Camarena, Emily Harris, and Katharine Mieszkowski, with help from Phoebe Petrovic. Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers edits the show. Special thanks for ProPublica for its use of audio of families at the border, to Youth Radio, Elisabeth Perez-Luna, Emily [Curatin 00:50:03], and to WHYY in Philadelphia, and WWNO in New Orleans for production help. Thanks also to Reveal's Ziva Branstetter, Andy Donohue, Matt Smith, and Patrick Michaels. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo, J-Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, yo, Arruda. They had help from [Kat Shugman 00:50:24].

 

Our acting CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Powell is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado-Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the The Reva and David Logan Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.

 

  Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 - 00:51:09]