Updated: Jan 31, 2021
The widely shared photo of the little girl crying as a U.S. Border Patrol agent patted down her mother became a symbol of the families pulled apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border, even landing on the new cover of Time magazine.
But the girl’s father told The Washington Post on Thursday night that his child and her mother were not separated, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed that the family was not separated while in the agency’s custody.
In an interview with CBS News, Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz, who was among the first to encounter the mother and her daughter at the border in Texas, said the image had been used to symbolize a policy but “that was not the case in this picture.”
Ruiz, who was not available for an interview Friday, said agents asked the mother, Sandra Sanchez, to put down her daughter, nearly 2-year-old Yanela, so they could search her. Agents patted down the mother for less than two minutes, and she immediately picked up her daughter, who then stopped crying.
“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.
The revelation has prompted a round of media criticism from the White House and other conservatives.
“It’s shameful that Dems and the media exploited this photo of a little girl to push their agenda,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Friday. “She was not separated from her mom. The separation here is from the facts.”
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The heart-wrenching image, captured by award-winning Getty Images photographer John Moore, was spread across the front pages of international newspapers. It was used to promote a Facebook fundraiser that has collected more than $18 million to help reunite separated families.
And on Thursday, hours before the little girl’s father spoke out, Time magazine released its July 2 cover using the child’s image — without the mother — in a photo illustration that shows her looking up at President Trump, who is seen towering above her.
“Welcome to America,” the cover reads.
Time has not responded to a request for comment from The Post, but in a statement sent to media outlets, the magazine said it’s standing by its cover.
Time also has added a correction to an online article and gallery that ran Tuesday, before the cover was released: “The original version of this story misstated what happened to the girl in the photo after she [was] taken from the scene. 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.”
Moore, the photographer, told The Post in an email that Time corrected the story after he made a request minutes after it was published. He said that the picture “is a straightforward and honest image” showing a “distressed little girl” whose mother was being searched by border officials.
"I believe this image has raised awareness to the zero-tolerance policy of this administration. Having covered immigration for Getty Images for 10 years, this photograph for me is part of a much larger story,” Moore said, adding later: “The image showed a moment in time at the border, but the emotion in the little girl’s distress has ignited a response. As a photojournalist, my job is to inform and report what is happening, but I also think it is important to humanize an issue that is often reported in statistics.”