Awkward truth about viral photo
THE father of the Honduran girl in the pink jacket who became a symbol of the "family separation" controversy engulfing the Trump administration has revealed she was never separated from her mother at the US border.
The photo of two-year-old Yanela crying as a US Border Patrol agent searches her mother Sandra Sanchez, 32, in McAllen, Texas, quickly became one of the most recognisable images from the current debate over illegal immigration.
It was used in a Facebook fundraiser which raised more than $US17 million to provide legal services for refugees, and Time magazine featured the girl on its July 2 cover next to the looming figure of US President Donald Trump.
"This one was tough for me," Getty photographer John Moore, who has been photographing illegal immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border for years, told Time. "As soon as it was over, they were put into a van. I had to stop and take deep breaths. All I wanted to do was pick her up. But I couldn't."
In an interview with The Daily Mail, the girl's father Denis Hernandez, 32, said he had not heard from his wife for three weeks until he saw the image of Ms Sanchez and their daughter online. Mr Hernandez said he had not yet spoken to his wife but had been told they were being detained at a family residential centre and were doing "fine".
"You can imagine how I felt when I saw that photo of my daughter," he said. "It broke my heart. It's difficult as a father to see that, but I know now that they are not in danger. They are safer now than when they were making that journey to the border."
Mr Hernandez said his wife had previously talked about going to the US for a "better future" and to experience the "American dream", but did not tell anyone she was planning to make the trek.
"I didn't support it," he said. "I asked her, why? Why would she want to put our little girl through that? But it was her decision at the end of the day."
Ms Sanchez left with Yanela at 6am on June 3, reportedly paying $US6000 to a "coyote", or people smuggler, to be taken cross the border.
"I don't have any resentment for my wife, but I do think it was irresponsible of her to take the baby with her in her arms because we don't know what could happen," Mr Hernandez said. The couple have three other children aged 14, 11 and six.
Mr Hernandez has a job as a captain at a port on the coast of Puerto Cortes. He said his wife was seeking political asylum and wanted to find a good job.
"I wouldn't risk my life for it," he said. "It's hard to find a good job here and that's why many people choose to leave. But I thank God that I have a good job here. And I would never risk my life making that journey.'"
Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez confirmed Mr Hernandez's version of events to Reuters. Mr Hernandez told the news service his daughter had "become a symbol of the separation of children at the US border".
"She may have even touched President Trump's heart," he said.
The Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy has resulted in illegal immigrants being taken into custody immediately after crossing the border instead of the more lenient "catch and release" system.
Because children cannot follow family members or guardians into custody, US guidelines mandate that those children be taken to separate facilities. In response to the outcry, Mr Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order to keep parents and children together in family detention.
Experts have warned that executive order may actually be illegal, as it goes against a 1997 court order limiting the amount of time children can be kept in immigration detention to 20 days.