Alone in a Border Patrol detention facility, separated from her mother, 6-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid knew what she had to do.
She had to persuade somebody — anybody — to call her aunt. She knew the number by heart, she said, rattling it off as other migrant children around her cried. Her pleas were captured on audio covertly recorded inside the facility, and published on June 18 by a journalist at ProPublica.
Now, a month and two days after their separation, Jimena and her mother have been reunited at an airport in Houston.
ProPublica shared video on Twitter showing the mother and daughter from El Salvador holding hands. “Sonrisas,” says someone watching the scene — “smiles!”
Jimena waved as they prepared to drive away. The video shows her cheerfully saying goodbye to an unseen person — “hasta luego!” she says.
On the original audiotape, Jimena, emotional but determined, repeatedly asked the adults around her to call her aunt.
At one point she said, “Are you going to call my aunt so she can come pick me up?” Another child, gasping for breath between tears, was audibly crying for his father.
“And then … my mom can come as soon as possible?” Jimena asked. In a very quiet voice, she repeated that she had the number.
ProPublica followed up with Jimena a few days after publishing the audio. It found that her aunt had told Jimena’s mother, Cindy Madrid, to make sure the girl memorized her number — and that knowing that number by heart was key to Jimena not getting lost in the chaotic immigration system, where authorities struggled to keep track of the families they were separating.
Most children separated from their families did not have information like that, a consular official told Jimena’s aunt, according to ProPublica’s reporting.
The Trump administration says that as of Thursday, it had reunited most of the youngest migrant children, those under the age of 5, with their families. The remaining children under 5, according to officials, are “ineligible for reunification for a variety of reasons, ranging from their parents’ criminal records to the fact that some self-proclaimed parents were not their parents at all,” as NPR’s Colin Dwyer reported Thursday.
The reunifications involving the youngest children were completed two days after a court deadline, and covered only a fraction of the thousands of children separated because of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Officials are struggling to reunite remaining families before the next deadline, in a little less than two weeks.