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Crying Girl in This Viral Photo Wasn't Actually Separated from Her Family

The photo became a symbol of the current family separation crisis on the US-Mexico border.
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
June 22, 2018, 4:38pm
Photo by John Moore / Getty Images

When you think of the crisis at the border, the photo of a young, migrant girl crying as her mother is frisked by a Border Patrol agent is probably the first image that comes to mind. Partly because it's gut-wrenching, and partly because it's everywhere: the cover of TIME, the banner of that $18-million Facebook fundraiser, and the front page of the New York Times. But according to the Washington Post, the girl who's become a symbol of family separation at the border was never actually taken away from her mom.


The nearly two-year-old girl's father, Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, told the Post she and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, were taken to a detention facility in McAllen, Texas, together. According to Getty photographer John Moore, the two had fled Honduras and trekked for weeks until they reached the Rio Grande, boarded a raft, and washed up on American soil near McAllen. That's when Border Patrol agents detained them, and Moore captured the now-iconic image.

According to Varela, the girl's mother had taken her to the States without telling him, and there was no way for the two parents to communicate. Varela told Reuters he figured they had gone to America together, but it wasn't until the photo of his daughter went viral that he knew for sure. Now, given the brutal conditions immigrants face when they're detained at the border—especially for the more than 2,400 kids being held apart from their families—he's just hoping they stay safe.

"If they are deported, that is OK, as long as they do not leave the child without her mother," Varela told Reuters. "I am waiting to see what happens with them."

Right-wing outlets inevitably had a field day once it was confirmed the two weren't actually separated, with Breitbart calling the image of them a "fake news photo" and the Daily Caller piling on. And while the two weren't taken away from each other, it still serves as a poignant portrait of the chaos unfolding at the border, and the toll it's taking specifically on children.

“My daughter has become a symbol of the… separation of children at the US border," Varela told Reuters. "She may have even touched President Trump’s heart."

Maybe she did. But with the President calling the "sadness and grief" of immigrant families "phony"—not to mention Melania's recent choice of outfit—the First Family doesn't seem too sentimental about what's happening at the border.

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