Photographer of crying immigrant girl picture defends against WH's criticism

The White House accused Democrats, media of exploiting of the photo.

June 22, 2018, 5:07 PM

The photographer who took the picture of a crying Honduran toddler standing beside her mother shortly after crossing the border told ABC News that it is a "straightforward and honest image" amid criticisms that it is being miscast.

The image of the 2-year-old girl has been circulated widely amid the uproar of family separations along the southern border, even though the fate of the young girl was not immediately known. The girl's father, who is in Honduras, has since confirmed to ABC News and other outlets that the girl and her mother were not separated by U.S. authorities, prompting an outcry from some who believe the photo is being misappropriated.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Friday accused Democrats and the media of “shameful” exploitation of the photo, seizing on what has been a growing conservative counter-narrative to that photo, which was also used in a stylized TIME Magazine cover.

John Moore, a special correspondent and senior staff photographer for Getty Images, took the photo and is now speaking out to defend his work.

"The photograph I took is a straightforward and honest image; it shows a brief moment in time of a distressed little girl, whose mother is being searched as they are both taken into custody. I believe this image has raised awareness of the zero-tolerance policy of the current administration," he told ABC News on Friday.

Moore told ABC News earlier this week that he took the picture while on a ride-along with a Customs and Border Protection agent in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. They saw a group of roughly 20 mothers and children "gathered on a dirt road." The agents spoke with and searched the group, and when the mother from Honduras put her daughter on the ground, the girl, whose name he did not learn, "started screaming immediately."

Moore noted in that earlier conversation with ABC News that the mother and child were together when they left with authorities and he didn't see the pair formally separated, nor had he been able to confirm whether or not they were separated afterward, though the policy indicates that they could be separated.

He stood by his reporting Friday as well, saying "at no point was it ever reported that the girl and her mother had definitely been separated, but at the time I took the photo that was a very real possibility."

"I think it’s been very clear from the start that the mother and daughter were taken away in the van together but that we didn’t know what would happen to them. I’m glad we have discovered they were kept together, however that wasn’t the case for a number of asylum seekers along the border," Moore told ABC News today.

Moore said that while the pair were not separated, he still views their situation as one impacted by the administration's "zero tolerance" policy.

"I’m very happy to learn that they are together," Moore said. "Unfortunately, they are together in detention, which is a feature of the “zero tolerance” policy. Previously they would have been processed and released, pending an immigration court date."

The magnitude of the photo

The photo of the little girl has become one of the most iconic images of the debate over immigration, with the pinnacle of its reach coming when the crying girl's image was worked onto a stylized TIME Magazine cover.

The cover shows the young girl is photo-shopped next time a photo of President Donald Trump, who is looking down at her as she cries.

It was also used on a Facebook Fundraiser page where nearly half a million people have donated more nearly $19 million for an immigration legal services provider in Texas.

That fundraiser was started less than a week ago and became the highest-grossing Facebook Fundraiser in the social media platform's history.

"I knew the photo would be important but was not aware it would receive such a response," Moore told ABC News. "As a photojournalist, my job is to document what is happening in the moment and to help inform, but if an image is powerful enough to raise awareness of the broader issue and build empathy and compassion then that’s a good thing."

The mother and daughter's status

ICE said in a statement that the woman, Sandra Maria Sanchez, who is from Honduras, was previously deported in 2013 and was arrested on June 12 by agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol near Hidalgo, Texas while traveling with a family member.

On Sunday she was transferred to ICE custody and is now at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. Her immigration proceedings are ongoing, according to ICE.

Trump has not publicly reacted to the specific photo in question, though he has said that he, the first lady, and his daughter Ivanka, have all been impacted by the photos they’ve seen related to the migrant children separations.

Under the executive order that Trump signed on Wednesday, the Justice Department is to start a legal process to change an existing court settlement that restricts the government to keeping children in detention with their parents for no longer than 20 days. The sought-after change would allow children to stay with their families for however long the adults are detained.

The order does not do anything to affect the fate of families that have already been separated.

On Friday, he tweeted his resolve to maintain tight border security standards, even as he also accused Democrats of “phony stories of sadness and grief.”

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