While reporting from the U.S.-Mexico border, Democracy Now! saw firsthand how migrant children separated from their parents are being sent around the country. We spoke with an airport worker who described children being brought in early in the morning in order to be flown out to other states, and raised concerns about how they are being treated. “The oldest I have seen is 10 or 11 years old. … The youngest is maybe 5,” he says. “They are sitting there silently. … I feel kind of heartbroken. They are very, very young kids.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We raced to the airport in Brownsville, Brownsville along the U.S.-Mexico border, to catch our flight back to New York. The airport has two airlines, American and United. The CEO of United put out a statement, saying, “Based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it’s in deep conflict with our company’s values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents.” Well, that left American Airlines to transport children. And apparently a number of them have been transported. We sat down at Amelia’s Cafe with a waiter at the cafe. He nervously agreed to describe what he’d seen.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you seen children coming through unaccompanied, separated children?
SANTIAGO: Yes. Since I started working here in April, I have seen like at least—cases like that, at least twice every month. The adults, when they come here, they come, and they order their food here. And usually, the kids—most of the time, they usually—no, it’s very rarely that somebody comes and buys them food, too. But most of the time they’re over there, and they’re all wearing the same shirt color and everything.
AMY GOODMAN: These are the separated children?
AMY GOODMAN: And the adults come here to the cafe, and they have their breakfast or whatever.
AMY GOODMAN: But they’re not getting food for the kids.
SANTIAGO: No. Most of the time, no. Very rarely that that happens.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever ask for the kids to be brought here so they could eat?
SANTIAGO: The first time, yes, because I didn’t know what it was, who they were. I thought they were from a school program or something. And then they told me that they were from—the separated kids that they’re bringing over here, and that they were not supposed to like buy or bring food for them.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did they look? First of all, how old were the children?
SANTIAGO: Most of them—the oldest I have seen probably would be 10 or 11 years old, at most. Most of them are young kids. And like they’re all very serious. They’re not smiling or anything. They’re all very serious look in their faces. And they always obey what they tell them to do. They’re always sitting down there silently without like speaking up or anything.
AMY GOODMAN: How does it make you feel?
SANTIAGO: Well, to be honest, I feel like kind of heartbroken, because they’re very, very young kids, that I bet they don’t even know what’s going on yet. And it’s not like it’s their fault that they’re here in the first place. And for them to be going through that, like I don’t wish that upon anybody.
AMY GOODMAN: Are they girls or boys?
SANTIAGO: Both sexes, equally. I would say they’re both sexes equally.
AMY GOODMAN: And what have they been wearing?
SANTIAGO: They wear regular shirts, like the one I have, but they are colored. They’re like—
AMY GOODMAN: They’re T-shirts.
SANTIAGO: Yeah, T-shirts.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about their pants?
SANTIAGO: Their pants, they are khaki-like pants.
AMY GOODMAN: All the same?
SANTIAGO: All the same.
AMY GOODMAN: And where are they going?
SANTIAGO: Well, they never tell me where they take them. They just tell me that they are the kids that are separated. They never disclose any information from there.
AMY GOODMAN: So they fly them through the airport, at what time?
SANTIAGO: They’re usually at the—with the very first flight that goes in the airport.
AMY GOODMAN: In the morning?
SANTIAGO: Yeah, the very first flight in the morning. The first flight usually is around 11:00 in the morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever gotten to talk to any of the children?
SANTIAGO: No, because, like I said, most of the time they are tight, and I can’t leave the workplace in here.
AMY GOODMAN: Most of the time they’re right out here in this waiting room here?
SANTIAGO: Yeah, in the lobby area right here in the airport.
AMY GOODMAN: And they just all sit next to each other?
SANTIAGO: Yes, ma’am. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: As the people who are in charge of them sit here and have breakfast.
AMY GOODMAN: So how does it make you feel?
SANTIAGO: Like I said, it makes me feel heartbroken seeing that, seeing little kids go through that. It’s very sad. And it really makes me feel sad for them, because, like I said, I bet they don’t even know what’s going on in their lives. And it’s not even their fault that they’re here in the first place. So, I just hope they can make it through.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know where they’re coming from?
SANTIAGO: No. Like I said, they don’t tell me anything.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know like if they come from Southwest Key, from the old Walmart?
SANTIAGO: Well, no, wouldn’t be able to tell you. I’m sorry about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know what countries they’re from?
SANTIAGO: Well, yeah, they’re from—from what they told me, they’re from like South American countries.
AMY GOODMAN: You said the children, it looks like the oldest are like 10 and 11. How old are the youngest?
SANTIAGO: The youngest, I would say they’re 4 to 5, because they’re already walking and everything. Yeah, so 4 to 5 years old, the youngest.
AMY GOODMAN: And are they helping each other? Are they taking care of each other?
SANTIAGO: Yeah, they’re always together. They’re always—everybody’s like always holding hands or hugging during when they’re waiting in there, before they’re ready to board.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you know where they’re flying to?
SANTIAGO: No, don’t know. They don’t tell me that. Even when I ask them, they don’t tell me that.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long has it been going on for? Ever since you got here?
SANTIAGO: Well, yes, ever since I started here, like I have seen that. I started working down here in April. But I met the woman that used to work before here. She told me that it used to happen before, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Did there—did it get more frequent in the last weeks?
SANTIAGO: I would say yeah, because, before, it used to be like, like I said, twice a month, at most. But now like usually like at least once a week sometimes even.
AMY GOODMAN: But now, more recently—
AMY GOODMAN: —in the last few days, did has happen?
SANTIAGO: Yeah, the last time it happened, it was like three days ago that I worked. That’s when I saw it.
AMY GOODMAN: Three days ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Just like just a few days ago from today.
SANTIAGO: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week.
SANTIAGO: Yeah, earlier this week.
AMY GOODMAN: How does it affect people in the airport?
SANTIAGO: Well, nobody ever says anything here, I guess, because it’s not—I guess they’re not supposed to, right? It would look bad if they say anything like that. But like I—but from like my other co-workers and when we talk about it, yeah, it also like, you know, affects them, even though this has nothing to do with them, but it still affects them, seeing like that every day, right? Well, not every day, but like every time that they come here.
AMY GOODMAN: When you hear about the old Walmart, the Southwest Key facility, where 1,400 kids are being held in cages, do you know about that?
SANTIAGO: At first I didn’t know about it, until recently, when they started telling me about that. When I heard about it, I was like—I didn’t believe it, or I guess I didn’t want to believe it, because it sounded so horrible, you know? But it’s something that I hope that, like I said, doesn’t happen to anybody, something so horrible like that. I mean, they’re human beings, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Does any kid stand out for you, someone you saw over there, sitting just beyond this cafe?
SANTIAGO: Well, kids that come with their brothers, I would say, because when you see two kids that are related, like brother and sister, brother-brother, sister-sister, they’re—you know, they are taking care of each other. They’re always hugging or—well, the older one is always hugging the little one and, I guess, making him feel safe.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Santiago, a waiter in the cafe at the Brownsville airport. When we went through the TSA line to our gate, there were UMs, unaccompanied minors, in the waiting area. Democracy Now!’s Laura Gottesdiener, you spoke to them in Spanish.
LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Yeah, I spoke to a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala. He had been in Casa Padre, in the old Walmart, for three months. He had not been separated from his parents. But what he said really stood out, is that a number of the other boys that he was jailed with had been separated, and they had started to receive calls from their parents, who had already been deported back to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, we went from on the plane with them—their minder did not want us to talk—she was from Southwest Key—to these boys. At the airport in Dallas, when we got to our American Airlines gate, there was another row of at least six children. They weren’t wearing the typical uniform of the sweatshirt and the sweatpants. They had different clothes. But they all had their new slip-on sneakers, carrying plastic bags of food, like premade sandwiches. Again, you were interrupted when you tried to talk to the kids, Laura.
LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Yeah, these were about maybe 5 and 6 years old, and the oldest was maybe 11 or 12 or possibly 13. They all had plastic bags with snacks. They all wore the exact same shoes. And when I asked the oldest one, you know, “Where are you guys headed?” she looked at me, and she said, “I don’t know.” And that’s when the man, who said he was a social worker, who was accompanying them interrupted me and said, you know, “You can’t speak to them, because of the situation,” he called it.
AMY GOODMAN: The situation.
LAURA GOTTESDIENER: Yeah, I asked him repeatedly, I said, “What situation?” He said, “The situation.”
AMY GOODMAN: And he referred to himself as a social worker.
LAURA GOTTESDIENER: He said he was a social worker.
AMY GOODMAN: And clearly, these kids were going to Newark. Final comment, Renée, as we wrap up this piece? And we will post the full interview with the waiter, Santiago.
RENÉE FELTZ: Well, it’s going to be a tough road, moving forward, for the parents and the children to be reunited, to move forward in their legal cases. There’s a lot of confusion about who can talk to who, how can they find each other.
AMY GOODMAN: The deadline for reuniting these kids with their parents—
RENÉE FELTZ: Coming up in about a week.
AMY GOODMAN: —is next July—is July 10th.
RENÉE FELTZ: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s in a few days, for under 5 years old, and two weeks later. Government not telling us what’s happening.
RENÉE FELTZ: Not telling us, and don’t seem to have any plan.
AMY GOODMAN: And the end of that story of the USS St. Louis, the Jews turned back by the United States during World War II.
LAURA GOTTESDIENER: More than 200 of the Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
AMY GOODMAN: And that does it for our show.