The photo above, of a Honduran toddler crying while a border agent pats down her mother, has lately become the symbol of Trump’s inhumane zero-tolerance policy, but according to The Washington Post the girl in question was not actually separated from her mother. Republicans have responded by attacking what Trump refers to as the “fake news media” for this mistake. However, it still doesn’t negate the fact that over 2,500 children were separated from their parents, and still are.
A version of the viral image was released on the cover of Time magazine on Thursday. On their cover, the original image has been photoshopped with Trump looking down on the little girl while she cries, creating a powerful representation of the current immigration crisis. The cover reads, “Welcome to America.” However, Time’s corresponding article states incorrectly that the girl was ripped from her mother’s arms at the border when, in fact, the mother and daughter were not separated and are reportedly being detained together.
Despite Time's mistake, the award-winning Getty photographer John Moore, who took the photo, never claimed that the mother and daughter were separated. After taking the photo, Moore told WaPo, “The woman picked up her daughter, they walked into the van, and the van drove away.” He only speculated that the child would be separated from her mother due to Trump's zero-tolerance policy. He said, “I don't know what the truth is. I fear they were split up.”
The toddler's father Deniz Javier Varela Hernandez, who remained in Honduras, spoke to WaPo about his story after finding out that his daughter and wife were not separated. He explained that his wife, Sandra Sanchez, told him she wanted to go to the U.S. to find a better life for her children, away from the dangers of Honduras. She left for America on June 3 and took their youngest daughter with her without telling him. After seeing the photo of his daughter on the cover of Time, Varela said, “The first second I saw it, I knew it was my daughter. Immediately, I recognized her.” He went on to say he felt helpless “imagining my daughter in that situation.” However, on Friday, he received a call from the Honduran deputy foreign minister, who informed him that Sanchez and his daughter were not separated but were being detained together. A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection also confirmed that the Sanchez and her daughter remained together after the photo was taken.
Naturally, Twitter is awash with Trump supporters (and family members) taking victory laps:
However, why weren’t Sanchez and her daughter separated when over 2,500 other families were? The photo was taken on June 12 and Trump didn’t’ sign the executive order ending the family separation policy until June 21. When the zero-tolerance policy was announced on May 7 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he said, “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you, as required by law.” So the entire nation was under the impression that children would be separated from parents, and they were. More than 2,500 children were separated from their parents in a six-week time period, yet somehow the government chose to spare one family and it just happened to be the toddler whose photo went viral.
However, whether the mother and daughter were separated is not at all the point. This image of an inconsolable little girl remains valid either way because it represents something much larger: an inhumane and heartless immigration policy that stripped thousands of innocent children away from their parents, ultimately causing irreversible trauma and lifelong health issues. On top of that, they were placed in what some critics referred to as a “concentration camps.” Time issued a statement to this effect, saying, “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. Our cover and our reporting capture the stakes of this moment.”
No matter how much Republican’s want Time’s slip-up to distract from the despicable transgressions America has committed against thousands of detained children separated from their parents, it will not. Moore’s image remains a symbol of the thousands of children who are still spread across the country in shelters and foster care, with little hope of ever seeing their parents again. A simple misprint does not justify the inhumane treatment of these children.
Despite the confirmation that Varela’s daughter is safely with her mother, Varela is still happy about the Time cover. He said he felt “proud” that his daughter has “represented the subject of immigration.” WaPo notes that he went on to say that the good news about his daughter should not “cast doubt on the ‘human rights violations’ taking place at the border.” He said, “This is the case for my daughter, but it is not the case for 2,000 children that were separated from their parents.”