A W A K E N

Animated documentary depicts one migrant family’s horrifying separation at the border

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Tonita and her son Wilson, as depicted in the animated Reveal documentary on family separation.

Neighbors say that when they saw activity last summer around a Phoenix, Arizona, office building that had been vacant for some time, they assumed a new business was opening up. That presumption was soon swept away after they saw that cameras and new door-lock systems had been installed. Something just didn’t seem right.

They were right. A blockbuster Reveal investigation from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that private defense contractor MVM Inc., paid by the federal government to transport migrant children, had been holding kids there for days at a time, despite the building not being licensed for the purpose. One child who was kept there for days was 6-year-old Wilson, who fled Guatemala with his mom, Tonita.

After being detained at the southern border, the two were jailed in a facility called a hielera, or icebox, for the freezing cold temperatures. Tonita said the only water to drink came from the sink, and it tasted disgusting. But, left with no other option, they drank it. Then, in the middle of the night, officials came to take Wilson. She said they didn’t tell her where he was going.

Now we know it was to the MVM office. ”That’s where we washed our hair,” Wilson narrates in Reveal’s animated documentary on his family’s separation. Without access to showers, the boy said, kids had to clean themselves at the sink. At night, they slept on mats on the floor. He was kept there for three days before he was moved to a children’s detention facility. He spent his seventh birthday there.

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