Father says Honduran girl was not taken from mum

The Honduran toddler crying as her mother was being searched near the US-Mexico border on June 12. Mother and child have been detained together.
The Honduran toddler crying as her mother was being searched near the US-Mexico border on June 12. Mother and child have been detained together.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TEGUCIGALPA • The Honduran toddler pictured sobbing in a pink jacket before US President Donald Trump on an upcoming cover of Time magazine was not separated from her mother at the US border, according to a man who says he is the girl's father.

The powerful original photograph, taken at the border detention by Getty Images photographer John Moore, became one of the iconic images in the flurry of media coverage about the separation of families by the Trump administration.

Newspapers and magazines around the globe published the picture, swelling the tide of outrage that pushed Mr Trump to back down on Wednesday and say families would no longer be separated.

"My daughter has become a symbol of the... separation of children at the US border. She may have even touched President Trump's heart," Mr Denis Valera told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He said the little girl and her mother, Ms Sandra Sanchez, have been detained together in the Texas border town of McAllen, where Ms Sanchez has applied for asylum, and they were not separated after being detained near the border.

Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Nelly Jerez confirmed Mr Valera's version of events.

Ms Sanchez and her daughter had left Puerto Cortes, a major Honduran port north of the capital city, Tegucigalpa, without telling Mr Valera or the couple's three other children, Mr Valera said.

The photo of the crying girl was used on a Facebook fund-raiser that drew more than US$17 million (S$23 million) in donations from close to half a million people for the Refugee and Immigrant Centre for Education and Legal Services, a Texas-based non-profit that provides legal defence services to immigrants and refugees.

The Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy had led to the separation of 2,342 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9.

Video footage of separated children sitting in cages, an audiotape of wailing children and Mr Moore's photo had sparked worldwide anger over the policy.

Children who have spent just three weeks at a temporary family immigration detention at the South Texas Family Detention Centre in Dilley, Texas, have apparently developed emotional problems, said lawyers and volunteers.

One child stopped eating and fell into depression. Another who could previously walk on his own now asks his mother to carry him everywhere. A third child started biting other children.

"No child or family unit with a child should ever be in detention," said Mr Alan Shapiro, co-founder of Terra Firma, which promotes immigrant children's health. He said he has seen children at several facilities show developmental delays and become anxious and withdrawn.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2018, with the headline 'Father says Honduran girl was not taken from mum'. Subscribe