The Story Behind the Viral Photo of a Crying Child at the Border

Anyone who has been following news in the United States recently has probably heard about the turmoil surrounding the separation of undocumented immigrant children from their parents at the southern border of the country. One photographer documented the human face of this policy with a viral photo of a crying toddler at the border.

CNN Reporter Ana Cabrera interviewed Getty Images Photographer John Moore about his image. Moore was in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas photographing Border Patrol activities as people were crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico at night. He spoke with the mother of the two-year-old child in the image who said they were asylum seekers from Honduras who had been traveling for a month. Federal agents asked the mother to put down her child so they could body search her. They were later transported to a U.S. Customer and Border Protection processing center.

Moore says that the series of photographs he captured that night were difficult for him to take "as a journalist, as a human being, and especially as a father" as he knew that the children would soon be separated from their parents into separate detention centers. For this particular image, he said he only had a matter of seconds to move into position and get down on a knee to be at the child's level before taking the picture. The mother and child were put into a van and driven off soon after, presumably to a detention center for processing.

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user-156929's picture

But how often is the image used as evidence that something is actually happening vs emblematic of same?

Anonymous's picture

I’d say it probably happens frequently. But just because it doesn’t show exactly what’s happening doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, if that makes sense.

user-156929's picture

Absolutely. My point is (sorry for my over-the-top analogies) there's no proof any bigfoot exist but that doesn't mean they don't. We know children are being separated from their parents and I'm absolutely certain a lot of them cry when that happens so, in this case, it doesn't really matter what the photo is. I just wouldn't want that to become accepted practice. Next thing you know, some future, theoretical president could spend his entire term fighting accusations of collusion with Russians, without any proof. "Just because there's no proof, doesn't mean it didn't happen!" ;-)

Anonymous's picture

Yeah, or some other theoretical president who’d have to spend his term fighting accusations he was born in Kenya.

user-156929's picture

Absolutely agree! In fact, even if Obama had been born in Kenya, he was already president; they should have left it alone. That being said, Obama was able to ignore his accusers. :-/

I'm NOT a political kind of guy. I'm a rational (I hope :-) ) kind of guy and go where reason takes me.

Rex Larsen's picture

Regarding the "news" jumping on the silly, sensational, and fake, this has happened since photography was invented. Bat Boy or outer space aliens holding hands with President Clinton on the cover of the Weekly World News comes to mind. This is the information age and we must be discerning in our news and information choices. As I type this, FOX News clips are on TV showing guests and hosts saying the asylum seeking kids "are child actors," or are in "summer camp" conditions, or get "fanned out to middle class neighborhoods where they turn into gang members."

Rex Larsen's picture

Lee Morris, regarding the Vulture and the Little Girl photo by Kevin Carter. It is nothing like the misleading zoo picture you describe. Nothing like it, no comparison. It is 100% real and won Carter the Pulitzer Prize. The future health of the girl has no bearing on the merits and impact of his image. The powerful image did create outrage, especially from New York Times readers where it was first published. Large numbers of readers were troubled Carter did not come to the aid of the child and instead spent a fair amount of time trying to compose the strongest possible image, before shooing the bird away. Famine was widespread. Journalists at the time were discouraged from touching famine victims to avoid spreading disease. The outrage over the image and the widespread suffering contributed to Carter's depression and eventual suicide. John Moore covered the ebola epidemic more closely than any other photographer. He did not touch any victims either.

Rex Larsen's picture

Another great comment ,Allen. You make great points. As I wrote in my reply to Lee, above, photojournalism is often the marriage of words and pictures. A short caption often adds important context to pictures. Same with headlines. And let me add, news pictures don't need tragic outcomes to have value and merit. If the woman and child in John Moore's picture end up in Disney World this week it takes nothing away from his image and is simply a good outcome and can lead to a strong follow up story.
I'm glad to learn about the girl in Kevin Carter's vulture picture. Photojournalists are often motivated by influencing positive change.

user-156929's picture

...or change they think is positive. :-/

Rex Larsen's picture

Well of course, Sam, and it's often not too complicated. Ending famine, Good. Rebuilding Puerto Rico, Good, Treating ebola epidemic, Good. Changing child labor laws in1908, Good. (Lewis Hine) Cleaning plastic from the ocean, Good.
Show Trump inauguration crowd size, Good.

user-156929's picture

I know this is going to border on fanboy-ism but I also think you have to give everything its proper weight. All but the last item deserve roughly equal weight. Certainly, pointing out the president's issues with hyperbole deserves to be called out but, they're not really that important. He's a businessman and a salesman at heart. Everyone knows that. They should have pointed out the faux pas, shook their collective heads and moved on. The thing they should have definitely NOT done is assign bad intent or call him a liar. Exaggerating is not the same as lying. Nor is just being wrong. And, unlike your other examples, there's no noble end to reporting on these things. Again, they absolutely should report it, but they have a habit of, themselves, exaggerating the facts.

I think we're coming to a point of agreement. It's kinda scary! ;-)

mlittle's picture

Yeah, actually she wasn't separated. So that's my issue. http://www.breitbart.com/texas/2018/06/21/fake-news-iconic-crying-migran...

Rex Larsen's picture

FYI, John Moore of Getty is on Instagram as JBMoorephoto. One of his photos shows the mom breastfeeding her two-year-old before being arrested

Anonymous's picture

To all those who said that the President couldn't do anything about the policy of separating families at the border crossings because it was a law he was powerless to change, I suggest you check your newsfeed this afternoon...

Apology accepted :P

Interesting and related-to-photography quote about this from the NYTimes, who stated that this change is "a testament to the political power of the images of the immigrant children to move public opinion." The power of photojournalism, no?

Anonymous's picture

When I caught my daughter taking too many cookies from the jar, her excuse was that her brother took extra cookies the day before. I told her that just because someone did something wrong before doesn’t make it ok for you to do now.

My daughter is 6, and now knows not to make this excuse. How old are you?

dale clark's picture

you are correct. Hopefully, the issue gets corrected with new policy. However, you know as well as me (how wrong or right the policy is) this is just convenient outrage to support a narrative against the current administration. I didn't like it before (past administrations) or now. I'm glad its being corrected, however, 90% of the people really don't care about the children, its more about the bad look it provides the current administration. Really sad

Anonymous's picture

Faux outrage is a part of politics, regardless of whatever "side" one connects with. If it can be used for good, as in this instance, I personally don't have an issue with it.

dale clark's picture

yes. I'm hoping outrage stirs up for human trafficking (especially children-teenagers). My wife is involved with some organizations. The sad thing is many of the immigrant children fall into this. Many send their children over to a "trusted contact" who really is just a broker for the trafficking.

Anonymous's picture

How awful. Although it's great that your wife is involved in organizations that are trying to combat this.

dale clark's picture

Yes. It's really ugly out there for young people with no parental or "trusting" adult support.

Immigration is such a way bigger deal than people think. The scope and size is huge. We need taxpayers and innovation in this country. I think immigration is key to making that happen. We have so many full blooded Americans (as we know Americans--people with ancestors that have been here a while) living on public assistance. Plus, baby boomers who will be retiring in droves , many with very little savings. X'ers and Millenials are not saving for the future. Student loans are now a lifetime payment. If we don't get people paying in......social security, etc will be empty. This is why a good "political free" policy is important (political free is just a dream in of itself).

I think the key is weeding out the criminals. I'm just not certain how to do that with so little resources on background checks from some countries.

Anonymous's picture

Amen, brother. Time to start working together again toward common goals, and question each others' methods, but not question our intentions.

Rex Larsen's picture

Personal possessions are taken from the asylum seekers including wedding rings.
My father came to America from Norway.
The Statue of Liberty seems very far away right now. It's 2018.
In the future there will be massive migrations of people fleeing rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.

dale clark's picture

Interesting. I wonder why. Is it policy to take such or agents who are crooked? I get taking things that may bring 'infections' etc (FLOABT)....wedding rings seem over the top. The only thing I could think of is a piece of jewelry may tempt some to steal or inflict violence to get the ring. If that were the case, I would think the items could be cataloged and returned to the people once cleared (or sent back)

mlittle's picture

Fstoppers, your faux outrage is over. Look at the happy family. NEVER separated at the border. You can still find another reason to hate Trump though. Can't wait for tomorrow's manufactured crisis and the accompanied photo...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5869829/Father-two-year-old-face...

mlittle's picture

Yeah, this screws up the faux outrage. I'm sure they're working on another fake article to blast Trump. I have absolutely zero faith in ALL media sites and am slowly losing my faith in this one. I'm tired of this crap. I am tried of writers disguising political articles behind crappy images like the one in this article. There are a million photos on Getty of kids crying and for fstoppers to claim this was about photojournalism and not politics is nonsense. It's disingenuous at a minimum. Yuk, I'm sick of being played a fool for evening reading this garbage.

dale clark's picture

The problem with today's media (traditional and social media) is EVERYTHING is way over the top. Left-right..it does not matter. The positive is that you can find out who really thinks for themselves. Plus, you get an get an idea of people's general intelligence by how they react to situations. If I were still hiring people (like i did when managing a plant), social media would be my best friend. As I've said one hundred times before "People tell you who they are ....believe them"

Rex Larsen's picture

"Fake article"? "Everything is way over the top with all media" ? You can't be serious. John Moore is a distinguished news and documentary photographer.
Both comments are not true, they are not accurate. I do agree with the comment about intelligence.