McAllen, TX – The viral photo of the little girl who was supposedly crying after having been ripped from her mother’s arms at the U.S. border was never actually separated from her mother after she entered the United States.
Additionally, The Washington Post reported that the child, whose now iconic photo was used on the latest cover of Time magazine, had been taken by her mother from their home in Honduras against her father’s wishes.
Her father found out where she was when two-year-old Yanela’s image went viral worldwide as a battle cry for people furious with President Donald Trump’s administration separating children from their parents when their parent are arrested.
“The first second I saw it, I knew it was my daughter. Immediately, I recognized her,” Denis Javier Varela Hernandez told The Washington Post.
Sandra Sanchez, 32, had not made a secret of the fact that she wanted to move to the United States “to experience the American dream,” Varela Hernandez told The Daily Mail. But she didn’t tell her husband she was leaving and taking their youngest child.
Sanchez was deported from the United States after entering illegally in 2013, U.S. Customs and Immigrations Enforcement (ICE) told The Washington Post.
“I didn't support it. 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,” Varela Hernandez told The Daily Mail.
The little girl’s father works as a captain in a port on the coast of Puerto Cortes, and he told The Daily Mail that things back home were “fine but not great.” However, his wife was seeking political asylum in the United States for herself and her daughter.
Sanchez didn’t tell her husband or family she was leaving and taking their daughter Yanela, and the first Varela Hernandez knew their whereabouts was when their picture popped up in the news.
“I never got the chance to say goodbye to my daughter and now all I can do is wait,” he said.
Varela Hernandez said that Sanchez left on the 1,800-mile journey with their daughter at 6 a.m. on June 3 without telling him, and he had not heard from her.
“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,” the worried father said.
She left three other children behind, he told The Daily Mail.
“The kids see what's happening. They're a little worried but I don't try to bring it up that much. They know their mother and sister are safe now,” Varela Hernandez said.
He told The Daily Mail that he would never consider going across the border, and said he isn’t sure it’s worth it because he’s already got a good job in Honduras. He said friends told him that his wife had paid $6,000 for a coyote to smuggle them into the United States.
“I wouldn't risk my life for it. 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,” Varela Hernandez said.
"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. They are safer now than when they were making that journey to the border," he said.
The confusion over the family's circumstances happened in the middle of a dramatic and emotional week filled with battles over the Trump administration’s controversial “zero-tolerance” policy aimed at prosecuting everyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally, FOX News reported.
President Trump has since issued an executive order that allowed families to stay together while their asylum claims are processed.
The misrepresentation of the family’s circumstances began when Time magazine ran a story, which has since been altered, that said the photographer had claimed the girl was carried away screaming by border patrol agents, The Washington Post reported.
Time later corrected the story to say they were taken away together, but the narrative had already been formed.
It was only the latest in a serious of media errors that President Trump has called “fake news.” Numerous staged pictures and photos from the previous administration’s immigration control efforts have been incorrectly blamed on the current administration.