During ongoing national debate over a novel policy of separating families at the border, a photograph circulated (originally from Joshua Feuerstein, a self-styled "American evangelist, Internet and social media personality" who last made headlines in 2015 when he manufactured a so-called "Christmas cup controversy") that purportedly depicted a room full of immigrant children that former President Barack Obama had supposedly removed from their parents' custody:
The attached text read:
As you stare at this picture of innocent children being separated from their parents at the border and feel your hatred toward President Trump start to boil over from the bowels of your soul...I'd just like to point out it was taken in 2014 .. when Obama was President! #share
Some versions were shared with no accompanying text, inviting readers to project their own interpretation onto the image:
The meme's text read:
INSIDE AN OBAMA APPROVED REFUGEE CAMP
140,000 Illegal Alien Children Seduced into coming to America By the Obama Cabal. MORE COMING NEXT YEAR TOO
Hey Obama.. Why not use the FEMA CAMPS??
Or are those being prepped for Patriot Resistance Fighters!!
The first iteration we could find of that image was alongside a 5 June 2014 post published by Breitbart. Although Breitbart shared the photograph on Facebook on 21 June 2018, the outlet did not include a link to its earlier reporting. In its original article, the children were described as "unaccompanied," indicating that they came without their parents, not that they were separated from their families by American authorities:
Breitbart Texas obtained internal federal government photos depicting the conditions of foreign children warehoused by authorities on U.S. soil on Wednesday night. Thousands of illegal immigrants have overrun U.S. border security and their processing centers in Texas along the U.S./Mexico border. Unaccompanied minors, including young girls under the age of 12, are making the dangerous journey from Central America and Mexico, through cartel-controlled territories, and across the porous border onto U.S. soil.
The photograph was subsequently disseminated by numerous web sites and news outlets. National Review's "Immigration Bedlam" said of the children in the photo:
Some 6,775 unaccompanied alien children (UAC) crossed the U.S.–Mexican border in 2011, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement reports. (The first bar in the ORR’s chart, above, should read 2003–2011.) ORR expects 60,000 UACs this year. This number could reach 130,000 in 2015. Detaining them for $252 each, per day, will cost taxpayers $453.6 million per month this year and could cost $982.8 million per month next year.
The image and events around it were widely reported for several months, appearing in the Houston Chronicle, Splinter News, the Los Angeles Times, Mashable, and Reuters, among others.
Stories during that time specifically reiterated that the photographs showed unaccompanied minor children in the custody of United States Customs and Border Protection and temporarily housed at a Texas Air Force base:
The photos have a timestamp of May 27, 2014.
A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency has not “officially released any photos at this time in order to protect the rights and privacy of unaccompanied minors in our care.”
... A temporary shelter at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland has housed and provided services to 1,820 unaccompanied minors from Central America since May 18, San Antonio Express-News reporter Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje reported. The immigration is part of a “surge” of children said to be fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries, she reported.
Although the photograph is real, it does not show children separated from their parents by the Obama administration. In June 2014, the image was published as part of numerous news stories (and occasionally alongside editorial pieces objecting to the presence of the unaccompanied minor children.) The image did not develop a different backstory until June 2018, during a controversy that specifically involved family separation at the behest of the Trump administration.