Late last week, as the world’s attention was tugged in the typical directions, a 6-year-old girl named Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid was reunited with her mother, Cindy. The two, who had fled El Salvador earlier in the summer, had been separated more than a month before, at the U.S.–Mexico border, in fulfillment of the Trump administration’s policy of breaking up migrant families as a deterrence to immigration. While the little girl—she goes by Jimena—was in many ways just one of the more than 2,000 children believed to have been incarcerated as part of that project, she was also, in another way, a singular one: Jimena was one of the kids who had been heard wailing, in the audio distributed by ProPublica, for her lost family. Jimena—or, more specifically, her disembodied voice, sobbing and disconsolate—became, in that, one of the symbols of a governmental policy that treats cruelty not as a byproduct of hard choices, but as precisely their point. A wall by another means.
Because of that, you could read the reunion between Cindy Madrid and her daughter as a decidedly bittersweet occasion—an event that occurred only because a federal judge ruled that separated families must be made whole again by the end of this month, if only to be detained as a unit, and one that could very well end with Jimena and her mom sent back to the country they fled. But CNN, whose cameras were on hand to document the Madrids’ meeting, emphasized the sweet over the bitter. “You heard her cry for her mom. See their reunion,” the network promised, selling the segment that follows Jimena in the last, brief leg of her long journey to reunite with Cindy. The network was true to its suggestion: Its segment is on the one hand heartwarming and empathetically reported and perfectly attuned to the cable-news context—and on the other a piece of insistent feel-goodery that highlights the happiness over the many alternatives. It is Time Life and Lifetime, rolled into one.