News media outlets falsely reported that a photograph of a crying toddler depicted a small girl separated from her mother at the border.

Mostly False



A photograph of a toddler girl crying at the border, taken by photographer John Moore on 12 June 2018, became virally popular and later was used for a 'TIME' magazine cover.


Media outlets have consistently reported that the girl was never separated from her mother, and that information was reiterated when U.S. Customs and Border Patrol stated that the pair had not been separated.


During a June 2018 controversy involving a then-new zero-tolerance family separation policy at the border, debate raged on social media about the provenance of a number of photographs — one of which depicted a very young girl in a pink shirt surrounded by border agents, sobbing.

On 21 June 2018, the web site Daily Wire was among sites reporting that media outlets falsely claimed the child had been separated from her mother:

BOMBSHELL: Girl Never Separated At Border; Mom Paid Smuggler And Abandoned Family, Father Says

The father of the 2-year-old Honduran girl that became the face of the media’s recent attack on the Trump administration for its “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration says that she was never separated from her mother at the border and that the mother abandoned her three other children and paid a human smuggler thousands of dollars to illegally enter the United States, all against his wishes.

… Major national news publications ran with the image, noting that it was now the face of the campaign against the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating families at the border even though this has been going on for years and is not new to his administration.

The Daily Wire referenced Washington Post and CNN articles about the photograph. Both articles profiled Getty photographer John Moore and the image itself, but neither reported the girl had been separated from her mother:

By now, millions of people have seen a photo of a 2-year-old girl screaming while a U.S. border agent pats down her mother. Taken [12 June 2018], the image has become a symbol of the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” border policies, which have caused hundreds of children to be removed from the parents who brought them here.

Moore had been at the [Rio Grande] river for seven hours by then. And although he had taken many photos, he did not yet have the one he needed. “I still had no picture that conveyed the emotional impact of family separations,” he said.

The CNN piece to which Daily Wire linked again profiled the photographer and his controversial picture, reporting specifically that the girl had not been separated from her mother:

Agents were searching people before they were taken into vans to be driven to a processing center. John Moore, a Getty photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, took the picture after the toddler’s mother set her down.

“One of the last people to get on the bus was the mother of this child and her daughter together,” he told CNN’s Ana Cabrera. “And when they went to body-search (the mother) against the vehicle, they asked her to put down her child. And right then, in that moment, the little girl broke into tears.

“It’s not unusual for toddlers in any circumstance to have separation anxiety. But I think this particular situation with the separation of families leads and gives a new meaning to that phrase.”

USA Today profiled the image on 19 June 2018, including quotes in which once again Moore stated that the mother and little girl were still together:

By now, you’ve likely seen the image of a two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker crying as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Photographer John Moore spoke with NPR about the June 12 [2018] photo, shedding some light on the moving photo that’s gone viral across the internet. Moore said he was photographing the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas when he came upon undocumented immigrants, mostly women and children … Moore took the photo after the border patrol agents asked the girl’s mother to put her down so her name and information could be processed and she could be searched before the two were detained.

“At that moment, the young child broke into tears and she started wailing. I took a knee and had very few frames of that moment before it was over, and she picked up her daughter, and they were rushed into the van and all taken away.”

Moore, who speaks Spanish, spoke with the girl’s mother briefly before border patrol agents took them away. The mother told Moore they are from Honduras and traveled over a month before rafting over the Rio Grande from Mexico to arrive at the U.S. border in Texas, according to CNN.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed on [19 June 2018] that the mother and child are together.

USA Today later reported that the photograph was being used on TIME magazine cover and once again noted that the child had not been separated from her mother at the time the picture was taken, a fact reiterated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the mother and child are together, but the photograph has become a national symbol of the heartbreak some families are facing as they enter the U.S.

Time staff said in a statement the image was selected to become part of the July 2 magazine cover to illustrate “the most visible symbol of the immigration debate in America.”

Major news media outlets generally provided accurate information about the image, but social media users were sometimes unaware of those details:

Although Moore said that his intent was to capture a “picture that conveyed the emotional impact of family separations,” both he and major news outlets said outright that the mother and child had departed the checkpoint together.

Bates, Daniel and Karen Ruiz.   “Father of Honduran Two-Year-Old Who Became the Face of Family Separation Crisis Reveals Daughter Was Never Separated from Her Mother, But the Image of Her in Tears at U.S. Border Control ‘Broke His Heart’.”
    Daily Mail.   21 June 2018.

May, Ashley.   “Time Magazine Cover Places Iconic Photo of Crying Immigrant Child at Trump’s Feet.”
    USA Today.   21 June 2018.

Nista, Julia.   “Crying Honduran Child Who Became the Face of Border Family Separation Was Never Separated from Family.”
    Daily Caller.   22 June 2018.

Park, Madison and Kyle Almond.   “This 2-Year-Old Has Become the Face of ‘Zero Tolerance’.”
    CNN.   June 2018.

Pitofsky, Marina.   “The Story Behind the Viral Photo of a Crying Toddler at the U.S. Border.”
    USA Today.   10 June 2018.

Saavedra, Ryan.   “Girl Never Separated at Border; Mom Paid Smuggler and Abandoned Family, Father Says.”
    Daily Wire.   21 June 2018.

Selk, Avi.   “‘I Wanted to Stop Her Crying’: The Image of a Migrant Child That Broke a Photographer’s Heart.”
    The Washington Post.   18 June 2018.

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