One of the most talked about photos in the ongoing immigration debate has been Getty Images photographer John Moore’s iconic photo of a 2-year-old Honduran girl crying at the feet of her mother and a border patrol agent. It has become a symbol in the debate over family separations, but it has now come to light that the girl was never separated from her mother.
As the photo went viral earlier this month, Moore wrote and stated in interviews that as a father, he was crushed while taking the photo because “he knew” what was coming next for the girl and family.
“Most of us here had heard the news that the administration had planned to separate families,” Moore told NPR. “And these people really had no idea about this news. And it was hard to take these pictures, knowing what was coming next.”
TIME magazine even incorporated the girl from the photo into its latest cover, describing it as a “reckoning after Trump’s border separation policy” (at the time of this writing, TIME‘s article about the cover does not mention that the girl was not separated):
— TIME (@TIME) June 21, 2018
But the Border Patrol agent Moore was riding along with, Carlos Ruiz, says that the girl was never separated from her mother and that they’re currently being housed together at a facility in Texas during their immigration proceedings.
“We were patrolling the border. It was after 10 o’clock at night,” Ruiz, the first person to encounter the family, tells CBS News. “We asked her to set the kid down in front of her, not away from her, she was right in front of her…So we can properly search the mother.
“So the kid immediately started crying as she set her down. I personally went up to the mother and asked her ‘Are you doing OK? Is the kid OK?’ and she said, ‘Yes. She’s tired and thirsty. It’s 11 o’clock at night.’
“They’re using it to symbolize a policy and that was not the case in this picture. It took less than two minutes. As soon as the search was finished, she immediately picked the girl up, and the girl immediately stopped crying.”
The girl’s father, Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, has also confirmed to news outlets such as the Washington Post that his daughter was never separated from the family.
Father of the now famous photo of the little girl crying says his wife/child were never separated at any time by authorities, that his wife was seeking a job (not fleeing violence), and that he is upset w/ her for taking his child on the dangerous journey https://t.co/owZH204b2A pic.twitter.com/ruZt263tDu
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) June 22, 2018
“This is the case for my daughter, but it is not the case for 2,000 children that were separated from their parents,” Varela tells the Post.
Moore confirms to CBS News that the agents he observed that night acted professionally, but says he’s still pleased with both the response to his photo and the TIME cover image.
“Oftentimes, immigration is talked about in terms of statistics, and when you put a human face and humanize an issue, you make people feel,” Moore says. “And when you make people feel, they have compassion. And if I’ve done just a little bit of that, then that’s OK.”