In 2018, MSNBC journalist Jacob Soboroff was among the select few to visit Casa Padre, one of the detention centers at the epicenter of the border crisis. What he saw there was cruel, unjust, and part of a long, complicated story. Soboroff joins us this week to talk about reporting at overcrowded facilities, and the families he met who were forcibly separated. Their perspectives shed light on the inhumanity of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, chronicled in Jacob’s book, “Separated: Inside an American Tragedy.”
- Purchase “Separated: Inside an American Tragedy” online from your local bookstore
- Follow Jacob Soboroff on Twitter
Support the show by checking out our sponsors
- You can digitally purchase life insurance from Haven Life Insurance Agency at havenlife.com/ouramerica.Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC17DTC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is 0K71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.
- The Marguerite Casey Foundation, creating greater freedom for changemakers to create a truly representative economy. Learn more at caseygrants.org, and connect with the Foundation on Twitter and Facebook.
To follow along with a transcript and/or take notes for friends and family, go to https://www.lemonadamedia.com/show/our-america shortly after the air date.
Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
The washer and dryer back there if you really want to see him. I did the whole my whole audio book in the closet. So, 30 hours. 30 hours straight in my wife’s closet.
Is that right now? Were you? Were you recording at a time when we were already under this pandemic spell?
Yeah, definitely. Do you live just before? Do you want me to start recording now?
Yup, I was going to say, now is a good time for everyone to start recording.
Yep. Let me just hit record. And I’ll give you a clap to just so you have it.
Yes, so, I, I will yeah, I did, I started. So, we had my wife always say we, but my wife had the baby. In fact, on February 14, so I was on leave. And then pandemic, you know, pandemic kicked into high gear. I had to finish the book. So, I did the audio book in the in the closet. I think it might be smaller than the closet that you’re in, actually.
Now, congratulations on that. Now, was this your first book?
First Book, second kid, so the kid was easier than the book.
I bet I bet. Now I remember. Because mine came out in October of 2018. And I think I was recording it over the summer, like, just in time barely got it done in time. But like you I, you know, recorded it myself, which I wanted to do. And it was fun, but took a while.
No, it took a while. A third. I think it was 30 hours total. And which is a lot of times to be in your wife’s closet.
It’s true. Well, well, we’ll uh, we’ll try and make this one as painless as possible.
This is great. Congratulations on the podcast. I’ve been listening. It’s great.
Thanks a lot. Thanks. And, you know, congrats on everything else that you’re doing, obviously, watch you on MSNBC and NBC. So yeah, I guess. You know, first of all, congratulations on your book. It’s called “Separated Inside: An American tragedy. That chronicles family separation along the US Mexico border. And I want to talk to you about what you saw as a reporter. Your reflection on what, what these family separations mean, not only for our policy, but maybe more importantly for who we are, as a country, and what it means for our country going forward. But first, I wanted to start off with just you grew up in LA.
So, you’re Californian?
And you grew up in a political household? You know, it’s fair to say, your dad ran for mayor in 2001.
I Think you once worked, briefly for Mayor Bloomberg. And talk to me about growing up in a political household and how you go from that to reporter.
Jacob Soboroff 3:13
Sure. And thank you, Mr. Secretary, it’s great to be with you and to have this conversation, you know, of all people with you, because of the presidential campaign. Especially, you know, you put these issues at the forefront. And, you know, at a time where I think they were really fading from the headlines, it was always very heartening to have you out there talking about them, because as a reporter who covered them, you know, it was a big frustration of mine to see this stuff, fade away. So, I know we’ll get into all of that. But just in terms of growing up in LA yeah, I grew up in a, I guess, a civic minded household. I was a privileged dude growing up in LA, and, you know, went to private school and, and all that, but my dad always worked, you know, for the city in a volunteer capacity.
He was the Recreation and Parks Commission President, The President of the Harbor Commission, was a senior advisor to the mayor. Dick Reardon, Republican actually. And so, I got to I got to be around civic infrastructure, from a really from a really young age. So I got to go around to all the hundreds of parks in LA with my dad and just be in neighborhoods that I never otherwise would have been in, you know, is I guess, the most basic way that I can, that I can say, and when he ran for mayor in 2001, against Jim Hahn, who ultimately won but also Antonio Villaraigosa, who, who then ran again against Hahn in the next election and obviously became mayor. I really, really solidified my love for politics and being around it. And these are people who, you know, continue to be in my life actually, you know, to this day, so then I went off to college at NYU and 9/11 was the, I don’t know, seventh day of school for me at NYU. And it was. [05:10]
That was a that was the fall when you got there.
In o-one as a first-year college student.
Lived in Washington Square Park and I went to be an actor actually and I grew up doing theater. I’m not a particularly athletic individual as anybody who actually sees me with their own eyeballs, get a test. And, and so I was I wanted to be in theater and that quickly changed after 9/11. I went to work as an intern for Mike Bloomberg, who became the mayor Election Day wasn’t was the primary day was 9/11 2001. And it was postponed and Bloomberg ultimately became the mayor. And being an advanced guy, which is what I ultimately became on a part time basis, while I was in college, I was a terrible student, my grades were horrible. But that was the best education to become a journalist ever got to be an advanced guy. He said to me, and says to everybody, I don’t think it’s a secret at this point.
Don’t fuck it up. Because if you do, uh, you know, that’s him on the line. And I learned very quickly, I said this actually, after, after having it came back to me Actually, the day I reported outside Casa Padre, which was that former Walmart in Brownsville were all the children were held 1500 boys, my job was to just like, as an advanced guy go in, soak up every bit of information I possibly could and come out and tell the boss who the night of the Casa Padre report was Chris Hayes, in my live report, but when I worked in politics was for the principal’s for Mayor Bloomberg or, you know, as you know, from your advanced books, I mean, the job is just say what you know, and say what you don’t know. And if you if you don’t know, that’s okay, too. So being around politics, is I guess a long way of getting to being around politics and ultimately becoming an advanced person in politics. I think gave me a skill set, if not the skill set to become a journalist. And for me, it was sort of the marriage of what I had wanted to do when I was a kid growing up, you know, kind of theater and, and acting and all that kind of thing, being in front of the camera. And then the love that I developed for civics, watching my, my dad, my parents, and then getting to work for the mayor in New York, which is just an incredible sort of institution to work for. And then I put them together and became a reporter. After some false starts working for some, you know, smaller independent organizations.
And what was your first TV job? Talk to me about your progression in television.
Jacob Soboroff 7:50
Yeah, I was Wired Science, which was an initiative from Wired Magazine and PBS. And I did a story on the science of baseballs. It was around the time that all the steroids the juicing was happening in Major League Baseball, and I went to Lowell, Massachusetts, where they would cut open baseballs to see if they if the baseballs were tampered with, because there were so many home runs happening. They were doing it. I think it was an I don’t remember exactly, but they were trying to figure out what was going on. And so, my story was, here’s the science part of the actual the baseballs and the bats.
And my first thing ever I ever did on television was, was this story for Wired Magazine, and PBS. And it had come out of just posting videos to YouTube. I was like going around with my own video camera, kind of doing my own stories on a local level in LA and the producer for this PBS show. I always wanted to be on MTV News to be like, that was the cool the gold standard of like cool young journalism. And while I at one point did a freelance thing for them, I never got to be to be Gideon Yago, who was the the star corresponded in my day.
And I just kept I just kept trying. And so Wired Science led to working for AMC doing red carpets, which was actually good training for talking to politicians, because on red carpets, stars never want to talk to you, but they do it anyways. And so, I learned like just ask the same question over and over and maybe get an answer. It worked when I was on the floor of the conventions in 2016. And so that led to Huffington Post, I did HuffPost live so it was the streaming network of the Huffington Post. I got to work for Arianna. I worked for upstart TV network called Pivot and did a show called Take Part Live where I was with Meghan McCain, and then Eddie Wong from Vice and then bear today thursday was a co-host.
And then I did a show for YouTube, which was like a clip show YouTube Nation I did a lot of weird jobs, that’s for sure. But ultimately, I got I got the job at MSNBC based on an advocacy project I did called Why-Tuesday which was sort of like all of this. It was a combination of civics and entertainment where I go around asking politicians do you know why we vote on Tuesday? Because I wanted to increase voter turnout and it was actually something that Ambassador Andrew Young and Martin Luther King the third and Norman Ornstein, the congressional scholar was doing, and I signed up to do it with them. And Phil Griffin, The President of MSNBC saw that and offered me a job actually, based on my advocacy work for Why-Tuesday. [10:24]
By the way, what was the answer to that?
There’s absolutely no good reason whatsoever to voting on Tuesday. That’s a law from 1845, when I wasn’t gonna put you on the spot. When we were in agrarian society, and we traveled by horse.
I would have had no idea.
And, it was because of marketing. So, it was ridiculous. Frankly, Chris Rock has a funny joke. He actually told it the other night on SNL where he says they don’t want you to vote if they did, we wouldn’t vote on a Tuesday in November. Have you ever been to a party on a Tuesday in November? No, of course not. Because nobody would come to that party. And, so yeah, Why-Tuesday became sort of my, my entry point to MSNBC about how, you know, how do we tell stories differently think about them in a different way. And, now it’s been almost, I guess, been over five years since I’ve been at NBC.
The first time I remember seeing you, I think you were reporting on a solar eclipse couple years back.
If I remember correctly, you were on location somewhere. I can’t remember where now.
There you go. I remember seeing you and you know, thought that you were impressive in, you know, your presence on the screen, and so forth. And what’s fascinating to me is that you have this, this grounding in civic engagement, obviously, a little bit in politics, and then also in presentation, right? How did that come together? to fuel your interest in the subject of your book, which is a family separation along the US Mexico border? You know, how did that How did your background kind of inform the interest that you’ve taken in this?
Jacob Soboroff 12:20
Well, I think, first of all, the issue of immigration as a Native Angeleno, is unavoidable. I live in a city that is 40, I think 48% Latinx, at this point, and the politics of Los Angeles are the politics of the Latinx, you know, community, they always have been, but now, more than ever, it’s an undeniable fact. And so, it wasn’t ever really a question of, like picking it as an issue. Because, for one reason or another, it just, that’s just, that’s how I always understood politics growing up in Los Angeles, that this is a community that you cannot ignore, or you ignore at your own at your own peril.
And when Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president, I was working here covering the election, really mostly interviewing voters. And then especially once he won, it really became unavoidable. And so, you know, I was I was covering things at the beginning of the Trump administration, that I thought, you know, I really missed the lead up to separations is the truth. And I write about in the book, I thought more covering immigration in the era of Donald Trump was, is he right or wrong about the need to build a wall? Is he right or wrong about MS-13? spilling across the border? Is he right or wrong about drugs coming in between legal ports of entry? And the answer was he was wrong about most everything. But in kind of my hubris of wanting to fact check him and prove him wrong. What I really missed was and what I didn’t understand despite growing up in LA thinking I knew I was talking about was how screwed up our immigration enforcement system was and how based it has been historically, in punitive deterrence based a punitive deterrence based philosophy that as you underscore it on the presidential campaign trail, is a is a multi-decade bi-partisan approach to immigration enforcement. That is really, that really got us to this point. So, when family separations happen, I was in the middle of doing a dateline documentary about the reality of life along the southern border. I interviewed Kirsten Nielsen; I did all these things. I was, you know, looking at went to the port of entry in El Paso to talk to students that cross back and forth every day to show how most border cities are bi-national based on both sides of the border with family members on both sides of the border. I mean, just so interconnected.
And I didn’t when I got invited by Katie Waldman, who has since become Katie Miller to go inside Casa Padre. And then the Ursula Detention Center in McAllen. What I was seeing with my own eyes honestly, the, in Brownsville, the 1500 boys allowed outside two hours a day in McAllen, the kids on the concrete floors and the mylar blankets and the security contractors in the Watchtower. I was shocked. I mean, shocked to my core as a human being as a father. And, and in that, in least in this regard, I did not see it coming. And, and I was and I should have. And so that’s why I sort of had embarked on this project to look backwards because I became so associated with covering family separations almost by accident.
That, you know, I want to answer for myself, but also, I felt like I owed it to our audience at NBC and MSNBC to people who started following me. And there were a lot of them because of this, too, to present a fuller picture of how this was possible for Donald Trump like that with the snap of the fingers to, to torture in the words of physicians for human rights 54 or 5500 children to engage in government sanctioned child abuse. And what I’ve since learned is that it was easy, because the system was set up in such a way that while this had never ever happened before. It wasn’t difficult for them to do.
You were one of the very first reporters who really got an inside view of these facilities where hundreds of migrant children were being kept. Tell me about your first experience visiting one of these facilities. You know, what did it look like? What did it feel like? What do you see?
To this day, you know, recounting this stuff makes me feel ill because it was it is such it’s such as it is a sickening experience. As an observer, I cannot comprehend what it is like, as someone who goes through this system. The first, the first of the two trips to the so-called Epicenter, and those were Katie Miller’s words, when she invited me was Casa Padre in Brownsville. And you walk inside a 250,000 square foot former Walmart to see 1500 boys 10 to 17 years old, kept inside for 22 or 23 hours a day, doing things like and by the way, hundreds of them they’re only because they were taken away from their parents that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Doing things like standing in line for a cafeteria, hundreds at a time, sitting in in line to get a haircut jammed five beds to a room instead of four because of overcrowding, watching Moana, the Disney film in the loading dock of the Walmart, doing Tai Chi playing pool playing Xbox. It was like a whole world inside this Walmart in a way that I just couldn’t wrap my head around.
And it was in it was the first thing anybody said to me when we walked inside it was a was an official from Southwest Key from the organization that maintain this facility for Office of Refugee Resettlement. She said smile at them because they feel like animals in a cage being looked at. And the irony there was there were no cages in this facility. This was actually the, “shelter”. And that night I went out and I said to Chris, hey, is live on the air. You know, I’ve reported inside county jails I’ve reported inside a prison. You know, these kids are ostensibly in a shelter but effectively they’re incarcerated, you know, not wanting to wait other way to describe it. And I went home a couple days later to LA and have my anniversary with my wife. And the next day, the Katie Waldman, Katie Miller called me back and said, we’re going to let people into the to the real Epicenter where the separations are happening. So, I got back on a plane an overnight flight I think I left at 1am la time got there on Father’s Day 2018. And that’s when I that’s when I was that’s when I was inside the facility where the separations were happening. This is the concrete floors, the mylar blankets, all of it.
This is Ursula facility in McAllen, Texas?
Jacob Soboroff 19:36
Exactly, the central processing station is sort of the euphemistic way that they talk about this place. But really, it’s just a giant warehouse. None of the luxury is the wrong way to put it, but none of the amenities that you would see in the Casa Padre facility that I was in a couple days before this place Design is a jail. It’s a giant jail in a warehouse. And it’s when I started to talk to the border patrol agents. And they would say we’re strained and struggling. And stress the system is not designed to do this. There are four social workers, for hundreds of separated children, we can’t touch the kids. We’re not allowed to change diapers. The parents are being processed virtually over video conference, from agents and other sectors because we don’t have enough personnel to deal with what’s happening here. It was, it was beyond shocking. And that’s when I came outside. And I said, their cages, I don’t know any other way to describe them. And, and in retrospect, I look back and I’m so glad that I did. Because what was I supposed to say? They’re baseball backstop looking things that children are being kept in me, it was just that I didn’t, I was so viscerally moved, and frankly, upset by it, that I just came out and said, what I said and, and credit to my bosses at NBC at the time. They let me do it, you know, and I think that it was, um, I took some flak for it, when that happened, but that’s what it was. And I think that set off, not me, but I’m just saying the fact they opened the doors, the fact they put it, they put out the handout pictures, it said off this chain of events, where yourself included, people spoke out to the point where the President within seven days, you know, reversed this policy in a way I don’t think he’s done with anything else. But not without not without the damage being done. So, to these children that will now last them, we know, physiologically a lifetime.
And did you have an opportunity to speak to any of the children themselves? Or the parents?
I did a little bit and frankly, and candidly. I don’t speak fluent Spanish. You know, I did the best that I could, number one, they didn’t want us to talk to those children. But number two, you know, there were other journalists, frankly, who had the language skills that I didn’t do, were there. And some knew about separation, some didn’t. I write about it in the book, actually. And actually, just talking about this, I think an important point to underscore is, you know, my version of events in in recounting
This is my version of events. It’s there are there are literally thousands, over 5000 versions of the story that I hope will one day be told, I’m probably not probably I’m definitely and unlikely eye witness to this shameful chapter. And I’m, and I’m certainly not a person with the closest proximity when it comes to lived experience. But I felt like it was important to tell this story, because I was a witness. You know, whether I want it to be or not. And so, and so that’s why I did and so, you know, one day, I hope. We won’t have to rely on middle people like me to get to get to hear from the voices of the people who were in there at the time. And I think in time, we will.
Julian Castro: In fact, in your book, you make it a point to shine a spotlight on some of the other great reporters that have written about this story, including some of the reporters of color.
Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. And he wasn’t not for those reporters, I would have missed this. I don’t even know that I would end up in these facilities. So, the person who broke the story was Julia Ainsley, who’s now my colleague, she was at Reuters at the time, but she is now at NBC. But Caitlin Dickerson at the New York Times, and I think what was one of the most consequential stories, if not the most consequential story, Lomi Kriel at the Houston Chronicle, I should say, broke the El Paso pilot program story, which was the in the summer of 2017. They started doing it secretly, and she expose that to the world. But then in April of 2018, Caitlin Dickerson at the times got this list of 700 kids who had been separated. And I think it went on the front page of the paper.
And I think that really, I mean, I don’t think I know and I did reporting for the book that shows that it set the Trump administration into an absolute tailspin. And the guy who they appointed to be the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, considered destroying literally destroying the list of separated kids that had leaked, which would have been such a catastrophic disaster because the record keeping was so poor, who knows what would have happened when they tried to reunite those parents and kids. Caitlin’s reporting was so consequential that the government decided or sorry, the government considered literally destroying the records of the separations and thank goodness that didn’t happen because we already know 400 parents got deported without their kids who knows how many ultimately would have been, we’re not for, for people to push back, you know, are in response to Scott Lloyd wanted to do this when Caitlyn reported that.
Julian Castro 25:02
I mean, it’s absolutely amazing how brazen the administration was. And you know, and how heartless almost as though they didn’t see these folks, these parents as other human beings with children that they would care about. But in your book, you also talked about, you know, some stories of government officials who did care. Talk to me about that.
Yeah, there were, I’m convinced that this would have been exponentially worse, the amount of children who would have been separated ultimately, would have been 100,000. Or more If it was up to Stephen Miller. And in fact, when you were on the trail, and you were proposing ending 1325, you know, the government, US code that allowed the government to separate these children by prosecuting the parents.
That was the mechanism by which almost as a compromise, they ended up separating thousands of kids, if it was up to Stephen Miller, they would have gone around 1325 altogether, and literally separated every child and every parent that showed up at the southwest border, and not even put them through the Department of Justice System. Meaning they would have sent every kid ROR and every parent to ICE not forgetting about the Department of Justice altogether. And when you say there were people who push back and I report about in the book, these are people who I think prevented what would have been the the ultimate horrific situation, that ultimate horrific situation.
And those are people like commander Jonathan White, in ROR who ultimately was in charge of the reunifications and push back from the earliest days, even with Kevin McLean and then CBP Commissioner, Claire Trickler-McNulty, who was within ICE, and knew that if you separated, you wouldn’t have the ability to reunite because of the technological systems. They went forward with it anyway, James Dela Cruz ROR and Jallyn Sualog in ROR, and then people within the NGO world, the non-governmental world that, that we’re sort of investigating this, how is this actually happening? Jennifer Parker, like kids needed defense. I mean, there were people regularly going in and knocking on the door of the government saying, we know that you guys are preparing for this, you know, we see the evidence of it on the ground. And I think had they not been doing that they would have had free rein to do whatever they wanted. And we could have seen this, this this disastrous hundred thousand separation scenario.
What do you, you know, when you think about what you saw what you reported on. And in the book, you also write about the fact that this didn’t just happen in a vacuum. This is a system that was built up over time. What do you think it says about our country?
Jacob Soboroff 28:00
That is the reason I called the book Separated Inside an American tragedy and not separated inside Donald Trump’s tragedy. It is, this is an American tragedy. And it’s a uniquely American tragedy. That is only possible because this is been the way this system has been for, for literally decades, you know, in and this is, none of this is new to you. But in 1994, when Bill Clinton did prevention through deterrence, that was the first wave of border infrastructure, border walls that forth literally, and specifically intentionally force people to cross and dangerous and deadly ways who are trying to get into this country, George W. Bush created DHS and exponentially increased the size of the Border Patrol, Barack Obama, as you pointed out many times deported more people than anyone before and built the facilities in which I saw the children that Donald Trump separated, a caged.
And I think that that’s just the reality. That is that is how Donald Trump was able to very quickly put this policy and practice into place despite the fact the Obama administration rejected it as a policy or practice out of hand, as going too far. So, what it tells me is that what Donald Trump has done will be remembered in, I think, a long line of very, the ignoble History of the United States of America. I think that when my two kids are old enough, they’ll one day learn about family separations, I hope with other horrific events in American history, like Native American genocide, or slavery, or Japanese internment, or the turning around of the St. Louis.
This was that deliberate torture of children by the government for a political purpose. And my worry is that Because this is uniquely American, but our attention span is so political and short term, that if Joe Biden wins, everyone will associate this with Donald Trump and say, okay, things are gonna be better now. But the underlying conditions that allowed for this to happen, won’t go away if Joe Biden is president and in fact, will require deliberate, specific policies, many of which you discussed as a presidential candidate. So that nothing like this can happen again, which is why I want to write the book, which is why Juan and Jose, the father and son who were separated, participated in my book, I mean, we had the same goal to learn how we got here, and to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else. And, and I don’t think it’s as simple as pinning it on Donald Trump, even though he deserves all the scorn that it gets for this.
Yeah, you’re right. About you write about the story of Juan and Jose, tell me about Juan and Jose, and why you chose their story?
They’re from Petén, Guatemala, the department in the Far North. And the reason I wanted to include them number one is I met Juan when he was incarcerated at Adelanto the ICE detention center. As I reported this in real time, so he had signed away have been coerced into signing away the right to reunite with his son, Jose, who was in South Texas, they were separated after coming to Arizona.
And at the Yuma Border Patrol Station, they were put into different cells and literally didn’t see each other for almost five months after that point. And we’re an opera, his lawyer, Lindsey Toczylowski, at the immigrant defenders Law Center in California, here in LA, he probably would have been deported without his son too. And so, they ultimately were reunited. But the reason I want to include their story, and not a different story was I didn’t know this actually, until I started going out to dinner with them, once they were reunited and living in Washington, DC together. As I started working on the book, Juan had crossed before, twice as an economic migrant from Guatemala. And he had told me that, and he kind of laughed it off and said, I read about this in the book that, oh, they didn’t catch me. And so, I would go home, and I would provide for my family. And, and that’s just what I did.
But when they did face threats, from Narcos in Guatemala, he and his son left together, and they came here to seek asylum. And it was actually not until the Reverend Al Sharpton who is, you know, technically, I guess, a colleague of mine at MSNBC, I heard him deliver the eulogy for George Floyd. And say that George, again, I’m a Jewish guy from LA. So, I’m not the most biblical person. But he cited the Bible and saying, George Floyd was a rejected stone who became the cornerstone of the movement that we saw this summer, he might not have been, he might have had the most perfect track record or the whatever, you know, who cares about what his reputation was, it doesn’t excuse what happened to the man and how his life ended.
And to me, it resonated instantly with Juan story, just because he crossed twice before, so called illegally. And I knew that people would point to that and say, Well, he deserved this or that or the other thing. For me, nobody deserves what I saw, which is to be tortured by the US government for simply wanting to come here and have a better life. And I guess I could have picked another story a story of a perfect family or somebody who, who didn’t have such exceptions, so to speak on in their record. But to me that would have defeated the purpose of telling this whole story, which is that no matter what you think about any one of the 5500 people who went through this process, and had this pain inflicted upon them, it was unfair, it was a human rights violation. It was it was deemed illegal by the federal government. There is no excuse. And if you want to make one, you’re making excuse for, for torture in the words of the experts.
Julian Castro 34:11
One of the most unforgettable and moving audio clips that I heard during that entire time was a young girl calling out for I think it was her father to think of how many kids are going to suffer the psychological consequences of being separated from their parents for years. What have you found in your reporting during that time, but especially after that time, about these families, what they’re going through now?
One official who was involved in the reunification said to me is that childhood trauma leads to a century of suffering They’ll be they’ll live with this trauma for their entire lives, every single one of the children, whether they know it or not, whether they can feel it or not today. And what really hit home for me actually was when I was in Yuma, maybe now at this point, three months ago, covering President Trump’s visit, to go visit his border wall. I think I was Whats-apping with Juan, saying, because I think the book was about to come out, just checking in. And he’s and I told him where it was.
And he said, if you see President Trump ask him a question for me. Why did you separate us? And why did you traumatize us psychologically? And this is something now that I think these families are just starting to grapple with. There’s a reason that the federal government’s been ordered now to pay for the medical care of literally therapy sessions for everybody who was separated by the federal government. This isn’t something that you can just, it’s not something that’s going to go away. I mean, I don’t know, there’s really not another way to describe it, it’s something that they will live with forever. And when he said that to me, you know, wasn’t surprised by it. But it, it was such a simple thing to say that, but it was really cutting, because that’s what this is about. It’s about living your everyday life, Juan is going to talk to him yesterday, he’s going to work during construction, we FaceTime from a from a project he was on in Washington, showing me the balcony, and his son is working to become an electrician. But think about all the things that are challenges as a teenager growing up in high school during COVID. And on top of that you were taken from your parents by the US government and forced apart living in a shelter for five months, you know? How do you overcome that? I don’t know. I don’t know that there is an answer.
You use the word unlikely, little while ago to describe sort of your entry and in all of this. What is it meant? Personally, you know, you said you’re not fluent in Spanish. In some ways, people wouldn’t think that you’re the most likely reported to have gotten in there and reported this story out the way that you did. And then to write a book on it, you know, how has it affected you? How’s it changed you?
Jacob Soboroff 37:34
As a couple ways I think, as a father, and also as a journalist, which, I guess first I’ll say, you know, I, I feel like, it’s taught me about who gets to be in what position of, of power or privilege in this in this industry that I’m in, and the fact that it was me. There are reasons for that, you know, I was I am a white privileged, dude that grew up in LA. And I don’t think you can disconnect that I who I am from, ultimately, how I came up through college and school and got my job and all that stuff, right. Like, that’s just the reality. And, you know, I probably shouldn’t have been the person to be in position to be the one to tell the story. And like I said, I just ended up being that person.
And it’s, it’s made me much more dialed into that fact, and that there are plenty of very capable people who are closer to the story, who would have done a more comprehensive job. And I’m been in the position to be much more analytical and on the spot, and in the moment than I was at the time about contextualizing everything. And that’s just the truth. And I’ve learned, I’ve learned that’s only been solidified in me since I wrote this book and have learned everything that I have learned. And I think it’s important for me to, to acknowledge it.
And as a father, by the way, Cesar Conde, the new President of our news division, has a commitment to hire 50% people of color within the next several years in our newsroom, and I think that that’s exactly what we should be doing. So that, you know, I don’t end up the person in this position. Next time doesn’t mean I’m going to turn away from the story. I don’t think I can, I mean, I literally become obsessed with it. And I have no intention of stepping away, but it his plan is the plan. And that’s where we should be at this point.
So that it isn’t it isn’t mean necessarily next time. And then as a father you know, I had one kid at the time I was there on Father’s Day and I had a two-year-old it’s like it’ll never none of that will ever leave me to see him watching me on television as I’m about to go in. You know, my wife sent a video you know, to see these children that are in those conditions, it makes me sick to think about, and I have another baby, you know, I will never ever, none of us will ever be able to comprehend what these families have gone through.
But it made it, I think, particularly personal for me. And, and it drove home another lesson as a journalist, which is I don’t believe in neutrality or objectivity in this type of reporting. It’s like, I saw what I saw, and I’m not going to go in there and try to be “fair”, when I see, you know, a systematic violation of somebody’s rights, I’m going to tell you what I saw, and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. So, you know, doesn’t mean I’m the best. Does it mean that, does it mean that I’m a shining example of a journalist going through all this? No. But that’s okay. If that’s if that’s, what I learned is at the expense of being seen as the fairest journalist in the world, or the most objective, fine, as long as you’ve seen is fair, that’s what I care about
Julian Castro: And just my, my last question. I want to be respectful of your, of your time is in less than a month. Our country is going to make a big decision about its future. And as you’ve said, you know, the issues that we’re grappling with here. They, they go beyond one administration, although this administration has made them much worse.
Julian Castro: What are you hopeful for in the years to come? When it comes to Juan and Jose, and all of the people that you’ve met along the way?
That we don’t turn away from this conversation right that, that it to me. The fact that you and I are talking about this today. And this is going to reach an audience of people who will carry this message forward, no matter who’s in the White House. I think is what’s, what’s exciting to me and hopeful gives me hope. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous right like I know that there’s, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of people in the resistance who equate what happened with Donald Trump and Donald Trump alone.
And I think that that is, it’s a sort of a reductive way to look at this, but I feel like now more than ever, people are willing to take a step back to contextualize some, I mean, we’ve had a lifetime of experiences transformational experiences, and moments, over the course of just this one summer alone, and over this administration as well. And I think they’ve been so shocking that people want to understand better how any of this was allowed to have happened. And I hope and, and I’m hopeful that that spirit is not going to go away. If there’s a Democrat in the White House. Because there’s going to still be a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to this very specific issue and the consequences of it.
Julian Castro: And what’s next for you?
Well I’m in the laundry room I might do some laundry immediately after immediately after getting off with you but I don’t know back to the drawing board I guess I mean we’ll see, there’s still a lot, you know, in this in this world. The news never stops. I mean, when it comes to immigration. The Trump administration is carrying out some of the things that it wanted to accomplish with family separations like indefinite detention and kicking thousands of kids out of the country immediately there’s plenty to report on. It’s just a matter at this point of breaking through with, with all the noise but, you know, I think with you with this podcast, that’s not going to be a problem.
Well, Jacob, thank you for applying your insight and your focus to the tragedy of these family separations and to the lives of the people who have been affected by them, and using the platform that you have as a reporter, to help America understand what a tragedy. This has been. And, you know, hopefully, we learn a lesson as a country and don’t repeat it.
Thanks to you, Mr. Secretary, both for having me but also for, for being at the forefront of, of all of this.
Alright. Thanks a lot. Thanks for joining me and congrats again on the book.
Jacob Soboroff: Thank you. Yeah. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it and hope to see you in person, one of these days soon. And thanks to the team too.
Julian Castro: Definitely, for sure.
Moderator: Thanks, Jacob!
Jacob Soboroff: Thanks everybody.
Julian Castro: Thanks a lot.
Moderator: Just send this by email or just send the file in the chat, you can do it by Google Drive or we transfer
Jacob Soboroff: Okay good I’ll do it right now.
Moderator: All right, thank you.
Jacob Soboroff: Thanks everybody.