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Oct 17, 2020

An adolescence, seized

Co-produced with PRX Logo

Reveal immigration reporter Aura Bogado came across a scrap of information last year: A girl from Honduras had been in U.S. immigration custody for six years, longer than any case she’d ever heard before. She didn’t have much information to go on, besides the girl’s full name, the name of the town where she grew up and the first name of an aunt who had raised the girl. 

In this episode, Bogado does what the government didn’t: She tracks down the girl’s family members, who have been desperately trying to figure out what happened to her. As she does that, Bogado unravels the story of how a 10-year-old girl could get trapped inside what’s supposed to be a short-term system for much of her childhood. 

And, after a lawsuit against the U.S. government, we discover that tens of thousands of children have been held in custody for months, instead of days, and that nearly 1,000 have spent more than a year in shelters. 

Dig Deeper

Read: The Disappeared

Credits

Reported by: Aura Bogado

Data analysis by: Melissa Lewis

Produced by: Jenny Casas, Wilson Sayre and Najib Aminy

Edited by: Kevin Sullivan, Andrew Donohue, Soo Oh and Esther Kaplan

Production manager: Najib Aminy and Amy Mostafa

Production assistance: Brett Simpson

General counsel: Victoria Baranetsky

First Amendment fellow: Rachel Brooke

Sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda

CEO: Christa Scharfenberg

Editor in chief: Matt Thompson

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Host: Al Letson

Illustration by Molly Mendoza

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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.
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Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.
Speaker 5: We're on record, this is Immigration Judge [inaudible 00:01:16], presiding in Portland, Oregon on 16 January 2020.
Al Letson: It's the start of the year before the pandemic shut everything down and Reveal reporter, Aura Bogado is in an immigration courtroom.
Aura Bogado: I was there for this hearing in a big federal building in the middle of downtown Portland. There is a Department of Justice seal on the wall behind the judge and wood paneling on the walls. About a dozen kids are listening.
Al Letson: The fate of these kids could be decided today. Aura has been following the case of one of them for months. A 17-year old girl from Honduras.
Aura Bogado: I recognized the girl right away as soon as she walks in. She has black pants and this really pretty cream colored top with flared sleeves on the arms. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail and she has a whole bunch of pink barrettes on, which, I don't know if it was hearts or bears or something.
Al Letson: In some respects, she's a typical teenager, but she's facing a life-altering situation.
Aura Bogado: She seems nervous, she's constantly fidgeting and looking around. We're not going to use her name because she's a minor and she's experienced an incredible amount of trauma.
Al Letson: Aura flew to Portland at that last minute to attend the hearing. She'd been trying to track down this girl after meeting her family. They told her that she'd been separated from them for more than six years, starting when she was just 10-years old.
Aura Bogado: She migrated to the US with her younger brother, a cousin, and an aunt. They were seeking asylum here after fleeing violence in Honduras where one of their family members was murdered. The siblings were initially placed with a foster family, but then they were torn apart and have had a very different experience. The brother is living with a foster family, but today we're going to focus on the girl because her case is astounding. She spent more time in custody in federally contracted shelters than any other child I've ever heard about.
Al Letson: Aura, do we know where she's been during all that time?
Aura Bogado: When she first arrived, she was placed in a transitional foster program in Oregon. That was in 2013. The family thought they'd be getting custody of her within a few months, but that never happened and since then, she's been shuttled across the country to a new foster family in Massachusetts, a residential treatment center in Florida, then to Shiloh, a residential treatment center in Texas.
Al Letson: You mean Shiloh that you reported on before, the facility that had been forcibly drugging children?
Aura Bogado: Yes. That one. She turned 14 there, the same year Donald Trump was elected president. Then she was sent to a shelter in New York and then back to Shiloh and then finally to another shelter back in Oregon where she was staying before this court hearing.
Al Letson: You've mentioned that this girl has been in custody for a really long time, but how long is the government typically holding kids in these kind of facilities?
Aura Bogado: In the landmark 1997 Flora settlement, the US government agreed to release minors "without unnecessary delay". Children are meant to be released as soon as possible. Jonathan Hayes, now the former head of the Office of Refugee Settlement echoed that when he testified before Congress in 2019.
Jonathan Hayes: I believe that a child should not remain in ORR care any longer than the time needed to find an appropriate sponsor. As of the end of August of this year, the average length of time that a child stays in HH's custody is approximately 50 days, which is a dramatic decrease of over 40% from late November 2018, when the average length of care was 90 days.
Al Letson: 50 days, 90 days, but this girl has been in shelters for six or seven years. That's nearly half her life. Irreplaceable years of her childhood.
Aura Bogado: I had to wrap my head around it at first because her case has thrown into question for me just how much or how little the government is really doing to try and reunify these children with their families.
Al Letson: Also, I'm doing a little math here, and that means that she was separated from her family during the Obama administration.
Aura Bogado: Right. We usually associate family separation with the Trump administration, but we do know that it happened under Obama. I just didn't know exactly what that meant until I heard about this girl.
Al Letson: Aura, let's get back to the hearing.
Speaker 5: We're on the record with the next case.
Aura Bogado: The girl steps to the front of the courtroom. You can hear the court interpreter in the background.
Speaker 5: Is the response present with her attorney? Karen [inaudible 00:05:56].
Aura Bogado: She takes her seat next to her attorney.
Speaker 5: What language are speaking or saying best?
Speaker 8: Spanish.
Speaker 5: Do you guys need an interpreter?
Speaker 8: Yes.
Speaker 5: Okay.
Aura Bogado: So this girl has been here from the age of 10 and she's 17 now and she still needs an interpreter. Clearly she can say some words in English, but she's most comfortable communicating in Spanish.
Al Letson: The thing I'm caught up here is that she's been in the US for years. During that time, has she had consistent access to education?
Aura Bogado: The education these kids get depends on the shelter. We asked the Office of Refugee Resettlement about this and they said that each facility bases the education program on the average length of stay. Since kids aren't expected to stay that long, there's somewhat of a revolving program, which means the girl may have been given the same lessons over and over again.
Al Letson: Bottom line, do we know how these kids progress academically?
Aura Bogado: No, because we don't have access to that information, but we do know that this girl has a very limited ability to read or write and in shelter, all of the meals were prepared for her so she didn't even learn some basic life skills like cooking, which is essential if she's sent back to Honduras.
Speaker 5: Just before we went on the record, Ms. [inaudible] mentioned that her client would be requesting voluntary departure.
Al Letson: So, what's happening here?
Aura Bogado: The girl has requested voluntary departure. In other words, she has asked to leave the country. Now, keep in mind, she is still waiting for a decision on her asylum case, which sources say she filed back in 2018. The girl has an advocate who is in charge of doing what's best for her. That advocate wrote a letter in support of the voluntary departure and then her attorney filed the request.
Speaker 9: I believe respondent's interest is in moving forward with the voluntary departure as soon as possible so-
Aura Bogado: And at this moment, the girl didn't know that she had family here in the US who were desperately trying to connect with her, but now it's up to the judge.
Speaker 5: Essentially, I have to inform you that you've been granted the voluntary departure request that your attorney has filed on your behalf.
Al Letson: Aura, did it seem to you like she understood what was happening in these proceedings?
Aura Bogado: You know, she did seem to have a clear understanding of what was happening. She wanted to have a voluntary departure. She seemed pleased with the outcome and so I don't want to take this agency away from her that she's exercising in this moment, but she also didn't know the full story.
Al Letson: Were you able to talk to the girl at the court hearing?
Aura Bogado: Her family had given me a message to pass to her along with their phone number and I printed out some photos that I had of them to give to her. I decided to stand in the elevator lobby where I thought I'd probably have the best chance of being able to hand this over to her. I wasn't allowed to record in the building, but right afterwards, I recorded what happened when I got back to my hotel room.
Aura Bogado: I hear them. I hear them coming out. I say her name. I tell her my name. I tell her I'm a reporter and I tell her, this is your family. I know your family. I've been in touch with them. Right away, the minder says to her, basically to ignore me. And then I'm telling her, take this. Take this. She takes it and her expression just completely lights up and she says to the woman, this is them. This is them with just this elated joy. But remember, I'm giving her this message just moments after she asked to depart the country thinking that her family has abandoned her. Soon after, they walked around the corner and I left.
Al Letson: Aura, you first told us about this girl and her family back in February. At that time, we were left with two main questions. Questions you now have answers to. The first one. How many kids are experiencing something similar, being held in immigration custody for months or even years?
Aura Bogado: I've been trying to get that information for a long time, Al. I first filed a FIOA request last year for the information. When the government didn't provide a meaningful response in the time allotted by law, our amazing attorney, Vickie Baranetsky got involved. We filed suit and we finally got what we'd been asking for.
Al Letson: What was it like when you finally got the information?
Aura Bogado: I was in disbelief. I was in disbelief that we got this information. There were lots of stops and starts and the government gave us versions of what we wanted, but when we finally got it, it was so much. The file was so big that my laptop couldn't even open it. I started working with data reporter, Melissa Lewis, and we began to make sense of it. And then it's like, let's see, let's see if the suspicions that we have about how long kids are kept in custody, let's see if that actually matches the record.
Al Letson: Okay, so what did you find out?
Aura Bogado: Al, they gave us records for more than 265,000 kids held in immigration custody from October 2014 through July 2020 and what we found out is shocking. More than 25,000 children have spent longer than 100 days in government contracted shelters and nearly 1000 migrant children have spent more than a year in this kind of custody. We found out from other records that since 2013, at least three kids have been held longer than five years.
Al Letson: Wow. Earlier we heard from a Trump official who said migrant kids were in custody somewhere on the average of around 50 days.
Aura Bogado: That's the nice thing about an average. It doesn't tell you about the outliers. When we examined the data, we found yeah, most kids spend fewer than 100 days in custody, but that still leaves 10% of the kids, more than 25,000 of them, in shelters longer than 100 days. We asked ORR about these numbers. They said, each case is unique and sometimes sponsorships fall through and sometimes children are going through court proceedings and that can lengthen their stay. But I know from my reporting, that sponsorships can also fall through because ORR doesn't approve them. The consequences can be dire, like an entire adolescence spent in the system.
Al Letson: Which is what happened to the girl you've been following. The other question we have from the last time you told us about this girl was, what happened to her after the immigration hearing?
Aura Bogado: I have an answer about that too now. [foreign language 00:13:24] After months of searching, I finally tracked the girl down and I reached her by phone. [foreign language 00:13:37]
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:13:39]
Aura Bogado: At first, she thought I was her most recent lawyer, Caryn Crosthwait. [foreign language 00:13:48] But then I explained that I was the woman. [foreign language 00:13:56] The one who gave her those papers and photos outside the immigration court.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:14:05]
Aura Bogado: And she just sounds so surprised.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:14:08]
Aura Bogado: And repeats, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I thought you were that other woman.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:14:15]
Aura Bogado: I thought you were Caryn.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:14:19]
Aura Bogado: And now you're telling me you're the one who showed up at the court and brought me those papers and photos of my brother.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:14:31]
Aura Bogado: And a photo of my grandmother.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:14:36]
Aura Bogado: Dona Amalia.
Al Letson: I'm talking to Reveal's Aura Bogado about the case of a 17-year old girl from Honduras who was held in US custody for nearly seven years. When we come back, we'll hear from the girl's family who is searching for her. This is Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Speaker 11: In the 1980's, America was clear cutting the last of its old growth forests, but then a small group of protesters started to stand in the way. Timber Wars is a podcast about how the fight over ancient trees transformed not just the Pacific Northwest, but the very way we think about forests and it divided the nation, turning environmental conflicts into culture wars. Timber Wars is a production of Oregon Public Broadcasting. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts, NPR1, Spotify, and at OPB.org.
Speaker 1: Support for Reveal comes from Allbird's. Allbird's is on a mission to leave the planet in a better shape than they found it. Their products aren't just comfy and purposely designed, but also carbon neutral from offsetting their carbon emissions. They make shoes from premium natural materials like the all-new Wool Piper, a twist on the classic lace-up sneaker. With Allbird's, feel confident knowing you're wearing a product that's doing right by your feet and the planet. Learn more about their sustainable practices and find your pair of Wool Pipers at allbirds.com today.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. We're following immigration reporter, Aura Bogado, and the case of a girl separated from her family and held in federal immigration custody for nearly seven years. Before the break, the girl had successfully filed for voluntary deportation to be sent back to her home country of Honduras. But just moments after that, Aura was able to deliver a message to her, that she had family in the US who wanted her to come live with them.
Al Letson: Aura, can you take a step back and remind us how we got here?
Aura Bogado: You'll remember that when I first heard about this girl's case all I had to go off of was her full name, the first name of an aunt and that they were from Honduras. And after many searches across social media and many dead end phone lines, I was finally able to get in touch with the aunt in early December. She was right here in the United States. This aunt helped raise the girl in Honduras along with the abuelita, the grandmother, and I came to find out that the aunt is the person whose named on government records as the girl's sponsor, which means that she's the one that the US government was supposed to give the girl to after they separated her from her family at the border.
Aura Bogado: I should say that we're not naming many people in this story because they are worried about retaliation, either here in the US or in Honduras. So we're just going to be using the first name of the girl's grandmother, Dona Amalia. She lives with the girl's aunt in North Carolina. I went to visit them. They live in the countryside where agricultural fields dominate the landscape. They have a very small home, three little puppies lop around. They are still learning how to run. And the grandmother has a big brood of chickens that she feeds kitchen scraps to.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:18:27]
Aura Bogado: That's Dona Amalia. Every time I meet her, she wears really bright clothing with her hair tucked under a kerchief and she wears these big, frilly aprons and the wrinkles on her face and her hands are deep. And at 94 years old, they give us a preview of how much life she's seen. From her and from other family members, I've learned the back story of how some of the family came to the US. In 2012, Dona Amalia's grandson was brutally murdered. He was shot and the vehicle that he was driving was set ablaze, melting off whole parts of his body. His death marked one of roughly 7000 homicides in Honduras that year.
Al Letson: And, we should say Honduras is a pretty small country so 7000 is a big number.
Aura Bogado: It's about the size of Louisiana. And the family made arrangements for his funeral. They also mapped out their escape. They sometimes received threats to their lives and wellbeing, which they previously pushed aside, but now those threats no longer felt hollow. Dona Amalia and the family made their way first to the capital in Honduras then north to Mexico and then finally to the United States. They wanted to be here first so that they could set up for the others who were still on their way. A few weeks later, the girl, her brother, another aunt and a cousin arrived at the border and the girl and her brother are separated from that aunt and cousin pretty much right away. This isn't uncommon. In fact, it's standard practice to separate any child from an adult who isn't their birth mother or their birth father.
Al Letson: Did immigration officials keep the kids together though?
Aura Bogado: At first, yes. The two kids were shuffled around together. First to foster care in Oregon and then to foster care in Massachusetts. The girl had a really tough time being away from her family and it kept getting worse the longer she was in. The brother and the sister would call Dona Amalia from time to time and tell them how they were doing.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:20:45]
Aura Bogado: Dona Amalia, she was telling me the girl, yeah, she'd hit herself. She'd cut herself with knives.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:20:59]
Aura Bogado: They kept putting her in the hospital, she told me. A lot of times, not just once, lots of times. And so I asked her what kind of hospital and she said, who knows.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:21:16]
Aura Bogado: She hit herself. She hit herself with something sharp she told me, like one of those. She was pointing at the wall and I asked her, do you mean the wall and she said, yes, like the wall. And from there, never knew anything else about her. Nothing, nothing at all.
Al Letson: Does the family know why she was hurting herself?
Aura Bogado: They told me that she had never harmed herself before coming to the United States. One family member says that the girl got the idea that if she hurt herself, she'd get attention and they'd release her back to her family.
Al Letson: So, up to this point, the brother and the sister were together and US policy is to release minors to their family members or a suitable sponsor. Do we know why they were never released to their family?
Aura Bogado: That's unclear, Al. There's one theory that because the girl isn't blood related to Dona Amalia and the aunt, government officials didn't want to turn her over. But her brother is blood related and so that theory sort of flies out the window. It could be that the government thought the family wasn't fit for some reason. The family says they don't know, that they didn't hear any explanation from the government. And I haven't been able to get an answer either.
Al Letson: Did the family have any documentation of this?
Aura Bogado: Absolutely. They had a lot of documentation that they tried their best to prove to the government that they were indeed the family of these two children and that they were fit and that they wanted the children back. So there's no doubt that the government identified this family as the sponsoring family. The girl was in touch with the family through the beginning of 2015, but then the phone calls stopped. The family didn't hear from them or anything about them for five years.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:23:14]
Aura Bogado: That's Dona Amalia again telling me they buried her. The government buried her. And that line has really stuck with me. She's saying that the government buried this child. The family says they kept calling the phone numbers that they had for the case manager and the case worker that they had previously been in touch with, but nothing. No one answered. Weeks went by and those turned into months and at some point, the phone number that they had was disconnected. I recently tried calling two phone numbers that I found on documents associated with the case worker at the time. One was out of order and the other belonged to a new user.
Al Letson: So this family is no longer hearing from the kids, they can't get anyone from the government to respond, so what was it like for this family?
Aura Bogado: For this family, Al, this was a family separation. For them, these children were disappeared.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:24:07]
Aura Bogado: We didn't know where they were, that's the thing. I was dying from tears. I'd ask, are they dead. How are they? My God, how must those children be suffering, naked, hungry. And the family was so petrified of the government itself, not just of government officials, but also of contractors associated with the whole shelter system, so attorneys and advocates and case workers and case managers. For Dona Amalia, she called on the one authority she's always placed her faith in, God.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:24:54]
Aura Bogado: I called on my God. I called on him, Jehovah, you are powerful, you are wonderful. Father, relieve me from this.
Dona Amalia: [foreign language 00:25:09]
Aura Bogado: Jesus, it's truly terrible. In the end, there is really no equal comparison. It's as if they were dead. As if they were dead. We knew nothing, nothing.
Al Letson: So having all this backstory helps us understand why she came to the US in the first place. She and her family were worried about their safety in Honduras and it's also clear that when she asked for a voluntary departure, she didn't realize her family in the US was trying to find her.
Aura Bogado: And during that whole time, she had a number of people representing her in immigration court. I don't know the total number of attorneys that she had, but that's one of the challenges that comes with prolonged detention. This inability to have steady legal representation. Attorneys came and went and the girl stayed.
Speaker 13: This is a master calendar for [inaudible] Today is April 14, 2015. This is April 26, 2016. The date is March 21, 2017. The government representative is ...
Aura Bogado: I was able to piece together what happened to her through court proceedings during the time she's been in custody, nearly seven years, and there are these moments where I'm just struck by just how many people had eyes on this girl's case. There's this one hearing from 2015 in Boston when the girl was just 12.
Speaker 13: Will the counsel please identify herself for the record.
Stacy Anderson: Stacy Anderson of [inaudible 00:26:55], pro bono on behalf-
Aura Bogado: And the girl hadn't even met this attorney because she wasn't in Massachusetts anymore.
Stacy Anderson: My understanding is that she's currently receiving medical treatment at a facility in Florida. The goal is to have her return to the Worcester area. Is she going to be okay, first of all, I don't know if-
Aura Bogado: Later in the hearing, the judge is trying to figure out how to handle both the girl's case and her brothers.
Speaker 13: They are so young. I'm just going to give you plenty of time to figure out what's necessary. You're with a reputable law firm, you're with a reputable social services agency, so I'm not concerned that their case is going to slip through the cracks and you'll do whatever you need to do for them. If you need to come in sooner-
Aura Bogado: After we reported part of this story, back in February of this year, I got the attention of politicians in Washington.
Jeff Merkley: Come to order. Thank you, Secretary Azar for being here. It's turned out to be a more eventful day and week than we might have anticipated.
Aura Bogado: This is the Senate hearing on February 25th, just a few days before the US reported its first death from COVID. Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about the girl's case. Azar's department is ultimately responsible for what happens to migrant kids held in custody.
Jeff Merkley: Many things about this bother me. But one is that six years in detention is an incredible impact on a child. It's a whole childhood disrupted or destroyed. A second is that essentially by not informing her that her family wanted her, it was extraordinarily misleading, but I am asking you outside of this hearing to put this case on the top of your stack because it's just every now and then a situation arises that's so horrific where someone has fell between the cracks and been treated in such a manner that none of us would want this for anyone we know or any child anywhere at any time.
Alex Azar: Absolutely. In fact, thank you. I'm glad you ... I had not seen the media report until you and your staff raised this to us about this and I, of course, can't validate anything in the media report, but I have asked the team, I want to dig in on this one and find out-
Aura Bogado: Azar goes on to say that the less time a child spends in custody, the better.
Alex Azar: We want kids with us for as short a time as humanly possible consistent with their safety. I will dig on that personally to find out, I want to make sure she's treated fairly and her family is treated fairly.
Al Letson: Do you know if Azar did what he said, followed up on the girl's case?
Aura Bogado: A spokesperson said the agency played no role in the girl's immigration proceeding, but that's not what I asked. What I wanted to know was, did Azar really prioritize this case like he testified that he would? The agency didn't answer that question. Meanwhile, as the deadline for the girl's deportation crept closer, federal officials were looking to reunite her with her birth mother, who hadn't been in contact with her daughter since the girl left Honduras eight years ago. I was able to reach the mother on a scratchy phone line.
Speaker 17: [foreign language 00:30:19]
Aura Bogado: The birth mom told me that the girl said she didn't want to go back to Honduras after all, that she wanted to stay with her aunt and with her grandmother, Dona Amalia. They are the ones who raised her, she told me, and since they decided to try and give this girl a future, I don't want to see it twisted around. That's what she told me. She said that the girl should be with her family and her family is Dona Amalia.
Speaker 17: [foreign language 00:30:51]
Al Letson: So, the birth mom is saying that the girl should stay with her grandmother in the US, but it's too late.
Aura Bogado: Right. And originally she was supposed to be deported in May, but the judge extends the time frame adding up to 150 days. And remember, this is happening against the backdrop of global pandemic.
Speaker 18: Around the world, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at three million.
Speaker 19: Breaking news. Death toll rising. Is it getting worse? The deadliest 24 hours in America yet.
Aura Bogado: Finally, in early June the girl was deported. At a time when people were barely leaving their homes, both here and in Honduras, the girl was put on a plane and sent back. More than six and a half years after she first arrived in the US.
Al Letson: We talked about the reasons why she left Honduras. How her family fled because of the violence they faced. Do you know what's happened to her since she got there?
Aura Bogado: I was really worried about that and it took me weeks to track her down. And Al, I want to show you the first thing I found that made it clear to me that the girl is not safe in Honduras. One of her family members sent me a couple of grainy cellphone videos.
Al Letson: So I'm watching now. Is this her?
Aura Bogado: Yeah, this is the girl. This is the girl we've been talking about for all this time.
Al Letson: Is there something wrong with her leg?
Aura Bogado: Well, she doesn't have any shoes on. She's spitting something out. Her face, if you can tell, her face is bloody. She might be spitting out blood.
Al Letson: What happened to her?
Aura Bogado: Someone close to her beat her up pretty badly and there are some people standing around her and in a bit you'll be able to see some more people. And these are just neighbors, this community in this very, very rural area. They are just really worried for her and they are describing what's happened, that she's been beaten and she's homeless. She's out on the street.
Al Letson: So this little girl gets taken into US custody when she's 10 years old. We bounce her around throughout the country to different temporary shelters including one that drugged children without the permission of their guardians or parents and then we send her back to Honduras, a place that she hasn't been since she was 10 years old and she ends up being homeless and beaten in the rural areas of Honduras. What responsibility does the United States government have to this young lady?
Aura Bogado: And what responsibility does society have to this girl?
Al Letson: Yeah. Absolutely.
Aura Bogado: We, as reporters, Senator Merkley, Secretary Azar, Jonathan Hayes, every shelter she's been in, everyone has had so many parts in all of this and yet she's still in a horrible situation. I know that that's not the question that you asked, but it's what I keep thinking about is, this idea of slipping through the cracks no matter how much people are trying to hold up their little parts, you can still wind up with this kind of situation and it's also not a situation. It's a life. She's still a child, you know.
Al Letson: Yeah.
Aura Bogado: I got a bunch of numbers to try and reach the girl and one day someone answered a number I'd called many times before. The woman answered and she told me that she knew the girl and that she would go and get her for me.
Speaker 20: [foreign language 00:35:46]
Aura Bogado: [foreign language 00:35:46]
Aura Bogado: Okay, bye. That phone number that I just called, I've tried to call that number many times. I must have called 100 times, I don't know, many times. And she just picked up and she said that I should call back in about 20 or 30 minutes and she is going to go and get the girl and bring her over so that I can talk to her. I'm just going to be really anxious for that half hour.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:36:51]
Aura Bogado: The girl asks how I am.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:36:53]
Aura Bogado: And I tell her I've been really worried about her.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:37:02]
Aura Bogado: Because I heard that things were going pretty badly for her with her mom.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:37:08]
Aura Bogado: But I don't know, maybe things were going really well.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:37:13]
Aura Bogado: And she says, yeah, some things have happened here.
Al Letson: When we come back, we'll find out more about what life has been like in Honduras for the girl.
Al Letson: This is Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Trump administration officials have said that migrant children who end up in immigration custody should be released to a sponsor as quickly as possible, but reporter Aura Bogato got data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement that shows that over the last six years more than 25,000 kids have been held longer than 100 days and about 1000 have spent more than in a year in this kind of custody. Today Aura has been telling us about one of those children, a girl kept in immigration custody for almost half her life and then deported to Honduras.
Al Letson: Aura, you've seen some troubling signs that the girl is not safe there. What happened when you finally spoke to her on the phone?
Aura Bogado: I already knew some of the information that she shared with me, but hearing it straight from her is just a totally different experience. I recorded myself reflecting on our conversation right after and going through the highlights.
Aura Bogado: I feel like the girl has incredibly lucid moments and a really sharp memory for some of what happened.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:39:07]
Aura Bogado: And then other moments where I just don't know that we're really on the same page about even what we're talking about.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:39:26]
Aura Bogado: We talked in English a little bit. Her English is at a very kind of starting level.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:39:35]
Aura Bogado: Okay. [foreign language 00:39:39] she said she does read a little bit and she's trying to write.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:39:46]
Aura Bogado: I'm also just sitting here with, there's so many people, there's her family here in North Carolina and her brother in Massachusetts and her family in Honduras and then all of the caretakers that have come in contact with her.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:40:24]
Aura Bogado: She was eventually told that she wasn't going to be able to be reunited with her family in North Carolina because they had too many kids there.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:40:40]
Aura Bogado: Which, I don't even know what to make of that.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:40:53]
Aura Bogado: And then she said that she just started having outbursts and having to go to the hospital when she was in Massachusetts.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:41:04]
Aura Bogado: I don't know, I feel like I've been sitting with this story for about a year, almost a year, and I've heard little versions of that, but her family's memory of what happened when is not always the sharpest and this is also a family that was fleeing violence. This brutal death of a family member's brutal murder and they've been through so much trauma in Honduras and in Mexico and in the United States and so to hear it from her is just, it's hard. It's hard to hear it.
Aura Bogado: On one hand, after talking to her, I now had some answers but it also raised other questions like, why would she be told that her family in North Carolina couldn't take her when I know that other kids were released to the same household where Dona Amalia and the aunt lived?
Al Letson: You mentioned earlier that she had spent time in the Shiloh Treatment Center, a government contractor south of Houston that houses immigrant kids. Your reporting showed that the facility forcibly drugged kids without consent from their families. Did she say anything about her time there?
Aura Bogado: Yeah. I asked her about Shiloh. [foreign language 00:42:45] and I was pretty shocked when she told me she really liked it there.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:42:52]
Aura Bogado: She says she was good there. That the people helped her stop cutting herself, which is a big deal. It's definitely the first time I've heard a child have anything nice to say about this facility. But I think the context here is a lot of her memories are in places like this.
Al Letson: This girl has been through a lot, both in the US and in Honduras. Were you able to learn anything about her mental health?
Aura Bogado: I was able to obtain a psychological evaluation. It's a pretty thorough document and I learned that the girl is disabled and she's at risk for being manipulated or exploited by others. The evaluation measured her ability to function and communicate in daily life and she scored extremely low. The psychologist noted that her scores were likely inflated because of the day to day structure she had in the shelter program. I redacted the girl's name and shared the evaluation with a developmental psychologist who specializes in LatinX teens and how a child's environment impacts their achievement. Her name is Dr. Daisy Camacho-Thompson.
Daisy Camacho-T...: The first thing to take away is that this is a person with disabilities. They measured her living skills and she's unable to do that very well and so this is a person who is at risk for not being able to take care of herself completely.
Aura Bogado: Dr. Camacho-Thompson put it this way. Even in the best of circumstances, the girl would still need substantial support to be able to set the foundational skills that help people navigate the world.
Daisy Camacho-T...: How to solve problems, how to communicate with adults, how to express your feelings, how to have close relationships with other people, how to differentiate all of those relationships. It doesn't sound like in these centers you have the ability to do those things and there's not much space for negotiation, thinking critically, solving problems because there aren't really problems for you to solve.
Al Letson: It sounds like what she's saying is the girl never got a chance to develop really basic life skills because she was in immigration custody for so long.
Aura Bogado: Yeah. That's the thing, she missed all of these micro moments. That's what Dr. Camacho-Thompson called them. She was never able to be a teenager outside of an institution so she missed all those little moments you have during your adolescence that ultimately determine how you learn how to be a human being in the world.
Daisy Camacho-T...: So if you didn't gain that skill, it's going to be very difficult for you to get it later.
Aura Bogado: Dr. Camacho-Thompson says the self-harm, the outbursts, they are understandable responses to trauma.
Daisy Camacho-T...: Given all of the circumstances that she's dealing with, it almost feels adaptive that she reacted in this overt way where she had to be institutionalized because it removed her from the problem.
Al Letson: So now that the girl is back in Honduras, what does her future look like?
Aura Bogado: That phone call, when I reached her, the aftermath that you saw in that grainy cellphone video, she's been staying with different people ever since. She's essentially homeless. She's suffered violence and what she made clear throughout our conversation is that she needs help.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:46:31]
Aura Bogado: [foreign language 00:46:40] I'm asking her about the basics. She needs a place to stay, food to eat. Does she need clothes?
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:46:50]
Aura Bogado: She says she has no clothes, she's been getting clothes from another house because she has nothing.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:47:02]
Aura Bogado: She says someone from the church saw her all dirty, eating food from the trash, from the street. She's shoeless and abused, but even as she's retelling this really hard moment, she has this sort of joking, exaggerated tone. She's like [foreign language 00:47:34]. I was all dirty. And it's one of these moments in our conversation as we're wading through all of this really tough stuff that she was able to just be light and full of teen energy. When I asked her [foreign language 00:47:52] if she had social media accounts-
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:47:58]
Aura Bogado: She says, no, she's not on Facebook or on any social media. I asked, [foreign language 00:48:11], have you ever used a computer?
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:48:16]
Aura Bogado: And she says, yes, in this way, it's like, hello, of course I've used a computer. But then she said that happened in Honduras and never in the US. She's been through a lot, but she's still so charming and funny. She has dreams and ideas about the future. She told me she's thinking about moving to Mexico or meeting her aunt and living by a beach.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:48:42]
Aura Bogado: And she says, sure, over there to the US? Yeah, I'd go to the US again.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:48:58]
Aura Bogado: But she says, look, Honduras is pretty much home. I have my people, my friends, people who care about me. We say goodbye and she wishes me well.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:49:15]
Aura Bogado: And I tell her to take care of herself. [foreign language 00:49:19], and to please [foreign language 00:49:22] not hurt herself.
Speaker 21: [foreign language 00:49:26]
Al Letson: These stories are so hard because we want to know what happens, but when we find out it's really devastating.
Aura Bogado: Yeah. I've been working on this story for about a year. You always think someone's going to do something about these kids. Secretary Azar, an immigration judge, a congress person, a government worker, all of these people touched this girl's case and she still spent her childhood cut off from her family and in immigration custody and ultimately deported to danger. What haunts me is all of the other kids in these records, the more than 265,000 children who have been held by the refugee agency since October 2014 and especially the nearly 1000 migrant kids who spent more than a year in shelters.
Al Letson: Aura, thanks for bringing us that story.
Aura Bogado: Thanks, Al.
Al Letson: [foreign language 00:50:32]. For updates on this story, go to revealnews.org.
Al Letson: Thanks to Reveal's Melissa Lewis for analyzing the data on how long migrant kids are kept in immigration custody and a huge shout out to our general counsel, Victoria Baranetsky who filed the lawsuit to obtain those records with the help of our former first amendment fellow, Rachael Brook. Today's show was produced by Jenny Casas and Wilson Sayer. Our executive producer, Kevin Sullivan, edited the show. Thanks to managing editor, Andy Donahue, data editor, Soo Oh, and executive editor, Esther Kaplan. We had additional production help from Brett Simpson and Najib Aminy who has been filling in as our production manager for the past few months. Amy Mostafa joins us this week as our full time production manager. Welcome to the club, Amy. Score and sound design by the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, Arruda. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor in chief. And our theme music is by [inaudible] Lightening. Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund and The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
Al Letson: Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Al Letson: I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 1: From PRX.