Leaked audio reveals detention center staff threatening immigrant kids over speaking to the media

"One doesn't know what's going to happen -- if you're going to last here a long time."

Staffers can be heard threatening immigrant children not to speak to reporters in newly leaked audio from an immigrant detention facility. (CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Staffers can be heard threatening immigrant children not to speak to reporters in newly leaked audio from an immigrant detention facility. (CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Newly leaked audio released by MSNBC Monday night appears to feature staff at a detention facility for immigrant children threatening the kids against speaking to reporters.

The audio and companion video, captured by a former employee at the facility and sent to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, is the first footage not vetted or released by the federal government and comes as thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border wait to hear what will happen to them next.

“…The other thing that is more important, and that I’m not supposed to be telling you, but I’m going to tell you the truth,” a staffer at the facility can be overheard saying in Spanish in the audio clip. “If, for whatever reason, you tell a reporter [about your situation here], you know what’s going to happen to your case? It’s going to be on the news. And then one doesn’t know what’s going to happen — if you’re going to last here a long time. I’m not trying to scare you, I’m just telling you — it’s the truth.”

The staffer adds that “the kids have to be careful not to talk, because while you’re here, you guys are okay.”

“We are protecting you,” the staffer says. “We’re trying to help you so that you can [be reunited] with your family or whoever it may be. Understood?”

The staffer appears to be threatening the children against speaking out, warning them that doing so could imperil their immigration case, forcing them to remain in detention for a long time, or suggesting that it could get them deported quickly. It’s not entirely clear which of the scenarios the staffer is trying to describe, but the threat is nonetheless troubling.


A companion video sent to MSNBC also shows children eating food off of paper plates in a classroom-like setting, and sitting in chairs arranged in a circle. One young child holds a blanket over their lap and another — a young toddler or infant — holding a plastic wiffle ball.

A third video appears to show a young migrant girl under the age of 10 speaking with the employee who leaked the footage, saying that she and her sibling came to the United States by themselves and that she wants to see her mother, who is in Virginia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted during an interview earlier in June that the Trump administration was separating babies and toddlers from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, attempting to downplay the practice by claiming “most” were not young infants. An Associated Press report later revealed the young children — many under the age of 5 — were being held in “tender age” immigration prisons by themselves.


In total, at least 2,300 immigrant children — and possibly more — have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border since May, shortly after the Trump administration announced it would implement a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that refers anyone detained at the border for prosecution. The policy makes no exception for asylum seekers, many of whom have been illegally turned away from the border ports of entry.

Many of the facilities contracted to house those children have histories of abuse, neglect, and mismanagement. As ThinkProgress previously reported, a handful of the federally funded detention centers have been accused of violent practices. Reveal also reported that one center center in Texas forcefully administered powerful antipsychotic drugs to the children in their care, without parental consent.

President Trump and other administration officials have attempted to excuse the abusive family separation policy in the months since its implementation by claiming they are enforcing the law, despite the fact that there’s no law that requires them to do so. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen took things a step further in June, suggesting the policy didn’t actually exist (it did).

The president signed an executive order on June 20, supposedly ending his administration’s family separation policy. However, the order makes no promises that border agents will actually end the practice. Instead, it suggests replacing the practice with long-term family detention, keeping families together in immigration prisons for extended periods of time.

Although the administration has promised it will reunite families separated at the border, there is currently no strategic plan in place to do so. Experts and immigration lawyers say it’s possible many children will never see their families again.