The father of the crying Honduran toddler in a photo that went viral during media outrage about the Trump administration's border policies says she was never separated from her mother.
Denis Javier Varela Hernandez saw the photo and said that his daughter and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, were not separated after Sanchez applied for asylum. Reuters reported that Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez confirmed Varela’s story.
"You can imagine how I felt when I saw that photo of my daughter. It broke my heart. It's difficult as a father to see that, but I know now that they are not in danger," Varela said in an interview with the Daily Mail. "They are safer now than when they were making that journey to the border."
Varela told the Washington Post his wife, with whom he has three other children, left Honduras with their youngest daughter without telling him. He said he got a phone call from the Honduras foreign ministry telling him the two were being held together, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement about her whereabouts:
A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement to The Post on Friday confirming that Sanchez was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol near Hidalgo, Tex., on June 12 while traveling with a family member. She was transferred to ICE custody on June 17, and is being housed at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Tex., the statement read.
The Trump administration took heat for enforcing a "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting all immigrants illegally crossing the border and temporarily separating them from their children. Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday halting the practice.
The image of Yanela, who will turn 2 in July, looking up and sobbing as her mother was patted down in McAllen, Texas, became the face of the controversy, with many assuming her tears were due to a pending separation.
Her picture was used to promote a fundraiser that has collected more than $18 million to date to assist the effort in reuniting families. Pulitzer Prize winner John Moore snapped the photo.
TIME magazine used the girl on its most recent cover, showing President Donald Trump towering over her in front of a stark, red background. "Welcome to America," it read.
— TIME (@TIME) June 21, 2018
"The new TIME Magazine cover shows just how bad things look for the White House," MSNBC host Katy Tur intoned on Thursday.
Varela said he thought the photo may have "touched President Trump's heart."
"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," Varela told Reuters.