Like they're wont do, the picture said more than a thousand words. A toddler girl in pink jacket and matching sneakers is seen crying, undeniably distraught, looking up at the top half of two people — her mom and a border patrol agent. The photo went viral, even making the cover of TIME, as it said more about human realities than the many thousands of words written on President Trump's policy of family separation. But it turns out that the migrant girl on TIME's cover was never separated from her mom.
The Washington Post reports that it has spoken with Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, the father of the little girl from the viral photo. According to Varela, his wife, Sandra Sanchez, took their nearly 2-year-old daughter, Yarela, without his knowledge. Varela says Sanchez wanted to escape the dangers they faced in Honduras.
Valera told Reuters that both Sanchez and Yarela had been detained together in a facility in McAllen, Texas. He added, "If they are deported, that is OK as long as they do not leave the child without her mother."
For its part, TIME is standing by the cover. The magazine released a statement Friday that said the photo had become "the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason." Noting that Trump's policy of family separation had guaranteed the removal of children from their parents, TIME argued, "Our cover and our reporting capture the stakes of this moment."
Varela seems to agree with TIME's take. Speaking about the larger issue at hand, Varela told The Post, “My daughter has become a symbol of the ... separation of children at the U.S. border. She may have even touched President Trump’s heart,” Valera said.
The revelation that Yarela had not been detained apart from her mother was greeted by conservative media outlets and pro-Trump individuals as evidence of "fake news" striking yet again. After retweeting a link to the story, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, "But but but... narrative. The dad is obviously lying because CNN said so. Right???" Self-described "Media Analyst" and YouTube host Mark Dice wrote on Twitter, "The Time magazine cover of the crying little girl is fake news. She was never separated from her mother." The Washington Post reports that far-right outlet Breitbart News has it as the "most prominent story" on their homepage.
Varela does not agree with using his daughter's story to minimize the reality for other children. “This is the case for my daughter, but it is not the case for 2,000 children that were separated from their parents," Valera told The Washington Post.
According to The New York Times, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents since Trump's "zero tolerance" policy went into effect. And the executive order the president recently signed to allow families to stay together did not specifically address how those separated children will be reunited with their parents.
Some of those children have been sent thousands of miles away from where their parents are being detained, with some kids transported from border facilities to locations as far off as Michigan and New York. Among a group of 50 immigrant children to recently land in Grand Rapids were two infant boys — an eight-month-old and an 11-month-old.
Legal action against the government is currently underway, with future lawsuits expected. Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia — the first immigrant to sue the government over its family separation policy — was reunited Friday with her 7-year-old son, Darwin. Mejia-Mejia's lawyers managed to reach an agreement before hearings took place.
While the toddler pictured on TIME's cover was not removed from her mother, thousands of other children have been. Despite cries of "fake news," children being taken from their parents at the border is a fact, a deliberate government policy, and a current human rights violation.