The Honduran toddler in a pink jacket pictured sobbing at the U.S.-Mexico border was not separated from her mother when they were detained, as was widely assumed, a man who identified himself as her father told various news outlets.
The nearly 2-year-old was photographed by John Moore of Getty Images as outrage was growing over President Donald Trump’s policy of breaking apart families who had crossed the border illegally. But in fact, she and her mother remained together, the father, Denis Valera, said.
“My daughter has become a symbol of the ... separation of children at the U.S. border. She may have even touched President Trump’s heart,” Valera told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Trump on Wednesday reversed himself and is now ordering the agencies responsible for the families to detain them together. His executive order fails to make clear how the administration will reunite families already separated, where the families will be housed and how officials will not rule afoul of what is known as the “Flores settlement” which requires that children stay no more than 20 days in unlicensed facilities.
The photo, of the child crying as her mother was searched near the border in McAllen, Texas, helped to bring in more than $17 million in donations to reunite migrant families. Her image inspired a couple from Silicon Valley, Charlotte and Dave Willner, to create what Facebook called its single largest fundraiser ever. It benefitted the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services or RAICES, a Texas-based non-profit that provides legal assistance to immigrants and refugees.
Her likeness was also used for a Time magazine cover, the little girl looking up at Trump. Time issued a correction at the bottom of its cover story saying it had misstated what happened to the child. The girl "was not carried away screaming by U.S. Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together." But Time's editor-in-chief stood behind the use of the image on their cover.
“The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason: Under the policy enforced by the administration, prior to its reversal this week, those who crossed the border illegally were criminally prosecuted, which in turn resulted in the separation of children and parents," Edward Felsenthal said. "Our cover and our reporting capture the stakes of this moment.”
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A border patrol agent, Carlos Ruiz, told CBS News that agents had asked the mother to put down the child, Yanela, so that they could search her. Sanchez was patted down for less than two minutes, then quickly picked up her daughter, who stopped crying, he said.
“I personally went up to the mother and asked her, ‘Are you doing okay? Is the kid okay?’ and she said, ‘Yes. She’s tired and thirsty. It’s 11 o’clock at night,” Ruiz told CBS News.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Democrats and the news media had exploited the photograph for political purposes.
“It's shameful that dems and the media exploited this photo of a little girl to push their agenda,” she tweeted. “She was not separated from her mom. The separation here is from the facts.”
Valera told Reuters that the child and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, had left via a Honduran port north of the capital city, Tegucigalpa, without telling him or the couple’s other three children. Sanchez has relatives in the United States and he said that she thought she went looking for better economic opportunities. She has applied for asylum, she said.
Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez confirmed to Reuters the details that Valera provided.
“If they are deported, that is OK as long as they do not leave the child without her mother,” Valera told Reuters. “I am waiting to see what happens with them.”