Photographer John Moore, who took the picture that has come to symbolise the horror of the new family-separation policy in the United States, reveals what happened that night.
A two-year-old girl in a bright pink shirt is crying. It’s the middle of the night, and she’s only visible thanks to bright lights, likely from cars and cameras. She’s sobbing, her head tilted back in fear as she looks up at a strange man touching her mother. But nobody can soothe her.
This image of a Honduran girl crying as United States Border Patrol agents search her mother has come to represent the heartbreak being experienced by illegal immigrants separated from their children.
Pulitzer prize-winning photographer John Moore has been documenting the immigrant experience for a decade, riding along with both Border Patrol agents and immigrant trains in order to get the story.
Speaking of the image, he speaks about the June 12 ride-along that resulted in the emblematic picture — not to mention the other heartbreaking photos he captured of this mother and child.
That fateful night
On June 12, after seeking access, he accompanied Border Patrol agents to the banks of the Rio GrandeRiver on the outskirts of McAllen, Texas.
Waiting with the guards for hours, he finally heard rafts coming across the river. They waited a little longer and then suddenly moved in to see nearly dozen of them – mostly women and children.
Describing that moment itself, Moore says, “Most of these families were scared, to various degrees. “I doubt any of them had ever done anything like this before — flee their home countries with their children, travelling thousands of miles through dangerous conditions to seek political asylum in the United States, many arriving in the dead of night.”
While the agents were trying to get the families into buses, he finally spoke to one woman who identified herself as a Honduran. She was travelling with her two-year-old. “The mother told me they had been travelling for a full month and were exhausted,” says Moore, who speaks Spanish. “They were taken into custody with a group of about 20 immigrants, mostly women and children, at about 11 pm,” he was quoted as saying to Getty Images FOTO.
Describing what happened next, Moore says, “Before transporting them to a processing center, transportation officers body searched everyone and the mother was one of the last. She was told to set the child down, while she was searched. The little girl immediately started crying. While it’s not uncommon for toddlers to feel separation anxiety, this would have been stressful for any child. I took only a few photographs and was almost overcome with emotion myself. Then very quickly, they were in the van, and I stopped to take a few deep breaths.”
Moore says he doesn’t know what became of the 2-year-old Honduran girl, adding that the asylum seekers he photographed likely had no idea of the new “zero tolerance” policy that has led to families being separated from their children, since they had been travelling for a month under harsh circumstances.