The sobbing toddler in an image captured at the scene of a border detention that was employed to powerful effect in a photo illustration by TIME magazine has not been separated from her mother, according to a man who says he is the girl’s father.
In media coverage and on social platforms, the heartbreaking photo, shot by Getty Images’ John Moore, swiftly came to symbolize the cruelty of “zero tolerance” family separations enforced by the Trump administration, that have so far resulted in at least 2,300 children being separated from their parents.
— TIME (@TIME) June 21, 2018
But the 2-year-old girl in the photo, Yanela, remains together with her 32-year-old mother, Sandra Sanchez, according to Denis Javier Varela Hernandez (also 32). “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 Hernandez told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Valera Hernandez told The Daily Mail he has not been in direct contact with Sanchez for three weeks, but that he had been informed she and his daughter are being detained together at a family residential center in McAllen, Texas. Sanchez, from the Honduran town of Puerto Cortes, has applied for asylum. Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez confirmed Valera’s version of events to Reuters.
Valera Hernandez told the Mail that Sanchez did not tell him or any of her family members about her plans to make the 1,800-mile journey to the United States. “You can imagine how I felt when I saw that photo of my daughter,” said Valera. “It broke my heart. It’s difficult as a father to see that, but I know now that they are not in danger. They are safer now than when they were making that journey to the border.
“I don’t have any resentment for my wife, but I do think it was irresponsible of her to take the baby with her in her arms because we don’t know what could happen.”
The couple has three other children, a son Wesly, 14, and daughters Cindy, 11, and Brianna, 6.
In the image by Moore, Yanela is seen crying on a dirt track as her mother is patted down by a Border Patrol agent, apprehended after crossing the Rio Grande river in a raft. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer told Getty, “They were taken into custody with a group of about 20 immigrants, mostly women and children at about 11 p.m. Before transporting them to a processing center, transportation officers body searched everyone and the mother was one of the last. She was told to set the child down while she was searched. The little girl immediately started crying. While it’s not uncommon for toddlers to feel separation anxiety, this would have been stressful for any child. I took only a few photographs and was almost overcome with emotion myself.”
In an interview with Univision, Valera Hernandez said, “My soul broke when I saw the picture.”
The photo is credited with fueling a major backlash against Trump’s immigration policies, drawing condemnation from several first ladies, from each side of the aisle, and was used in association with a Facebook fundraiser that drew more than $17 million dollars in donations, from close to half a million people, for a Texas-based nonprofit that provides legal defense services to immigrants and refugees.
It is also seen as a significant factor in pressuring the president to back down on his immigration policy and sign an executive order allowing families to stay together. But on Friday, supporters of the president seized on the news of Valera Hernandez’s claims to accuse the media of bias in how the story surrounding the Trump administration’s border policy has been covered. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted a tweet accusing the media and Democrats of exploiting the image “to push their agenda.”
It’s shameful that dems and the media exploited this photo of a little girl to push their agenda. She was not separated from her mom. The separation here is from the facts. Dems should join POTUS and fix our broken immigration system. #ChangetheLawshttps://t.co/Y6KrTp4Ulk
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 22, 2018
On Thursday, first lady Melania Trump paid an unannounced visit to McAllen, where she toured a border patrol processing center, igniting a firestorm of controversy after being photographed in a jacket bearing the slogan “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?”
The first lady was reportedly influential in forcing her husband’s hand as outrage surrounding the family separations mounted. According to the first lady’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham, the surprise trip to the border on Thursday was to “see what’s real.”
“[The first lady] wanted to see as close to what she had been seeing on TV,” said Grisham. “She wants to see a realistic view of what’s happening.”