A Border Patrol agent is speaking out after images of him patting down a Honduran migrant at the U.S.-Mexico border as her daughter cried at her feet last week fueled public sentiment against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Border Patrol Agent Carlos Ruiz told CBS News that the image might be considered misleading.
“We asked (the mother) to set the kid down in front of her … so we can properly search the mother,” he told the news network. “The kid immediately started crying as she set her down. I personally went up to the mother and asked her, ‘Are you doing OK? Is the kid OK?’ and she said, “Yes. She’s tired and thirsty. It’s 11 o’clock at night.’”
The image, taken June 12 by Getty Images photographer John Moore, gained traction as an example of the emotional toll of the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led officials to separate thousands of migrant children from their parents.
The photo spurred a California couple to start a fundraiser that has since raised millions of dollars to help migrants detained on suspicion of illegally crossing the border. The crying girl’s image will appear on the cover of the July 2 issue of Time magazine.
Moore told NPR and The Washington Post that the moment he captured was brief.
“I took a knee and had very few frames of that moment before it was over,” Moore told NPR. “I knew at that moment that this point in their journey, which was very emotional for me to see them being detained, for them was just part of a very, very long journey.”
Moore said he was not sure what happened to the pair after he photographed them, but that he feared they would be separated. The girl’s father, Denis Valera, told Reuters he has since learned that the girl and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, have been detained together in McAllen, Texas.
Sanchez has applied for asylum, Valera said.
He told Reuters that he was pleased his daughter had “become a symbol” of issues surrounding the family separation policy, but he said he fears for the family’s safety. He said Sanchez left Puerto Cortes without telling him or their three other children. Sanchez has family in the United States and likely left in search of better economic opportunities, he said.
“If they are deported, that is OK as long as they do not leave the child without her mother,” Valera told Reuters. “I am waiting to see what happens with them.”
The Trump administration in April directed prosecutors to pursue cases against all people suspected of crossing the border illegally as part of a “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy. Parents were separated from their children as they faced prosecution.
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Trump ended the policy Wednesday with an executive order after unsuccessfully calling on Congress to stop the separations through legislation.
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