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Story behind photo of girl crying as border agents question her mom

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Getty photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner John Moore has taken some of the most iconic photos to emerge from the US-Mexico border, including one of an asylum-seeking young girl crying as Border Patrol agents questioned her mother.

That image won the 2019 World Press Photo of the Year, announced Thursday.

Moore shared what it’s like taking pictures of detained immigrant families at the border, many of whom were separated this summer as part of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, to Getty’s blog Foto in June.

“As a father myself, it was very difficult for me to see these families detained, knowing that they would soon be split up,” he said at the time. “I could see on their faces that they had no idea what was about to happen.”

After the photo was published in news outlets worldwide, US Customs and Border Protection said Yanela Sanchez and her mother Sandra Sanchez were not separated from each other.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty; John Moore/Getty; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Responding to the controversy around the photo, Moore told The New York Times that “The best we can do, often as wire service photojournalists, is to photograph honestly and caption correctly.”

“Our photographs sometimes take on a life of their own later on,” he told the paper. “As photojournalists, we can’t always control that narrative.”

On June 20, Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s practice of separating migrant families, and later that month, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite migrant children who were separated from their parents.

Read more:Thousands more children were separated from their parents at the border than were previously known, inspector general reveals in bombshell report

He was ‘almost overcome with emotion’ taking the photograph

Moore said he doubted many of the families coming to the border last spring and summer knew about the Trump administration’s policy to separate families that cross the border.

“Most of these families were scared, to various degrees,” Moore told Foto in June. “I doubt any of them had ever done anything like this before — flee their home countries with their children, traveling thousands of miles through dangerous conditions to seek political asylum in the United States, many arriving in the dead of night.”

Border agents appeared to have a feeling of “resignation” about implementing and enforcing the family separations, according to Moore.

“Generally speaking, agents find the bureaucracy of processing so many asylum seekers tedious,” Moore told Foto. “Once families cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas, they seek out Border Patrol agents and then turn themselves in. I’d say that many agents do have some compassion for them, but they don’t think that the US should be responsible for accepting them.”

In the instance of the young girl crying as her mother was questioned by border patrol agents, Moore said she Yanela was two years old and from Honduras. The mother, Sandra, told him they had been traveling for a month to get to the US border and apply for asylum.

When Sandra set her daughter down so that she could be searched and the young girl began to cry, Moore admitted that he “was almost overcome with emotion myself.”

Moore caught up with the Sanchezes in February, and learned that they were detained in three different facilities in Texas for 18 days, then released. Awaiting a court hearing outside Washington, D.C., Sandra can’t get a job without a work permit, and she told Moore she hadn’t been able to afford an immigration attorney to help with her case.

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