Yanela Denise: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

yanela denise

Getty Yanela Denise with her mother, Sandra Sanchez, at the border.

Yanela Denise, a 2-year-old Honduran girl, has become the symbolic face of the border separation debate, after a photographer’s photo of her crying was widely circulated and then, in edited fashion, made the cover of Time Magazine. The Time Magazine cover is controversial because it shows the crying child positioned across from President Donald Trump.

However, the child’s father, who stayed in Honduras and didn’t support his wife’s trek to America, has spoken to multiple news outlets, saying he was told that Yanela Denise was not separated from her mother, whose name is Sandra Sanchez. That’s caused some to criticize the Time Magazine cover as misleading, while others say it captures the humanity in the immigration debate. ICE told Heavy that the child and mother are together now, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told Heavy on June 22, 2018, “CBP confirms that the mother and daughter were not separated.”

The now iconic photo was snapped by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for Getty Images named John Moore. You can see other photos from the sequence that Moore took for Getty throughout this article. A Facebook fundraiser that reads “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child” and uses the photo of Yanela Denise has raised almost $19 million. The money is being raised for a group called RAICES, which the Facebook page says “directly funds bond to allow parents to reclaim their detained children.” Donors included Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. The Child’s Father Says He Was Told She Was Never Separated From Her Mother & Is Doing Fine

yanela denise

A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker, Yanela Denise, cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.

Many news sites spoke with the child’s father, Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, 32, who says that he was told the girl was not ever separated from her mother, his wife, Sanchez, 32. For example, the father told The Washington Post “that his child and her mother were not separated,” the newspaper reported, adding that a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman also confirmed to The Post “that the family was not separated while in the agency’s custody.” The Post’s headline read, “The crying Honduran girl on the cover of Time was not separated from her mother,” and says the father told the newspaper he learned the information from a Honduran foreign ministry official.

UK Daily Mail, which interviewed the father, reported, “Denis said his wife and daughter were never separated by border control agents and remain together.” He said he’d received information from a Honduran official about his wife and daughter but had not heard from his wife since she left. Reuters reported, “Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez confirmed Valera’s version of events,” after reporting, “Valera said the little girl and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, have been detained together in the Texas border town of McAllen, where Sanchez has applied for asylum, and they were not separated after being detained near the border.”

CBS News reported: “Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed to CBS News the mother and daughter are being housed together at a facility in Texas and her immigration proceedings are ongoing.” The headline on the CBS story reads, “Crying girl in iconic image was never separated from mother, ICE says.” The dad told Daily Mail he was told the child is doing “fine.”

Heavy reached out to ICE, and the organization sidestepped the issue of the girl in its initial statement, giving Heavy this statement: “On June 12, 2018, Sandra Maria Sanchez, 32, a previously deported woman from Honduras illegally re-entered the United States. She was arrested by agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol near Hidalgo, Texas, while traveling with a family member. On June 17, 2018, Sanchez was transferred to ICE custody, and is currently housed at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. Her immigration proceedings are ongoing.” Heavy had asked, among a series of other questions, “Is it true that Yanela and her mother were not separated?”

Buzzfeed previously reported, “A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection…said the mother and daughter have not been separated and are now in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.” According to Buzzfeed, “ICE spokesperson Matthew Bourke claimed the agency does not know who the mother and daughter are” and said the agency could only check with a name and date of birth for the girl, which Buzzfeed did not have. ICE then gave Buzzfeed the same statement it gave Heavy. Heavy asked ICE for clarification on the CBS story. Heavy also asked ICE bluntly again whether Sanchez and Yanela Denise were separated, saying, “Can you confirm that she was not separated from the juvenile child?”

ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez then responded to Heavy, “What I confirmed to other reporters is that they’re together now. I cannot confirm anything that happened during her time in CBP custody. You’ll need to contact them.” (As noted, CBP then told Heavy the child and mother were not separated, with the CBP spokesman also saying, “I can tell you the mother and daughter were NOT separated.”) Heavy asked her whether they were ever separated in ICE custody, since Rodriguez used the word “now,” and has not heard back. Shawn Neudauer, another press spokesman for ICE, told Heavy, “ICE merely confirmed the adult female was in custody in Dilley, TX. If you want someone to comment on that case and whether or not the people involved were separated you will need to contact the agency that worked with them. USCBP. ICE does not offer comment pertaining to any juveniles as a matter of policy.”

“It’s shameful that dems and the media exploited this photo of a little girl to push their agenda,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted. “She was not separated from her mom. The separation here is from the facts.”

According to BBC, about 2,300 migrant children were removed from their families at the border recently while their parents were processed for prosecution. Yanela’s father has also spoken out against the family separations that have occurred, telling The Washington Post that he asks the president to “put his hand on his heart.” The Post puts the separation number at 2,500 children.

“I’ve never seen it in a positive light the way others do,” Hernandez told Daily Mail of family separation at the border. “It violates human rights and children’s rights. Separating children from their parents is just wrong. They are suffering and are traumatized.”

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Yanela Denise with her mother.

Time Magazine posted a correction to its original story on the photographer and the girl, writing, “The original version of this story misstated what happened to the girl in the photo after she taken from the scene. The girl was not carried away screaming by U.S. Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”


2. The Mother, Sandra Sanchez, Was Previously Deported From the U.S. & the Border Patrol Agent Spoke Out About the Picture

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U.S. Border Patrol agents arrive to detain a group of Central American asylum seekers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a processing center.

ICE told Heavy that Sanchez was previously deported. “On July 3, 2013, Sanchez was encountered by immigration officials in Hebbronville, Texas. On July 9, 2013, she was transferred to ICE ERO custody. On July 18, 2013, Sanchez was deported back to Honduras under expedited removal.”

BBC spoke to the border patrol agent who was among those who detained the mother and daughter. Carlos Ruiz, that agent, told BBC “the mother was asked to set the child down so she could be searched.”

“The kid immediately started crying as she set her down,” Ruiz told BBC. “I personally went up to the mother and asked her, ‘Are you doing OK? Is the kid OK?’ And she said, ‘Yes. She’s tired and thirsty. It’s 11 o’clock at night.'” The agent told CBS, “We were patrolling the border. It was after 10 o’clock at night” when Sanchez and Yanela Denise “crossed the Rio Grande River into Texas illegally.”

“We asked her to set the kid down in front of her, not away from her, she was right in front of her…So we can properly search the mother,” Ruiz said, according to BBC.

Ruiz told CBS he feels the picture is being used in a misleading narrative, saying, “They’re using it to symbolize a policy and that was not the case in this picture. It took less than two minutes. As soon as the search was finished, she immediately picked the girl up, and the girl immediately stopped crying.”


3. The Photographer Has Described the Moment He Snapped the Iconic Picture

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A Honduran mother holds her two-year-old daughter, Yanela Denise, while being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.

The photographer, John Moore, described the scene he encountered when he snapped the picture. The mother and her daughter were detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen Texas. “The mother had been breastfeeding her child after crossing the Rio Grande in a raft in the moments before they were detained,” BBC reported Moore told them.

Moore, who has photographed the border before, told Time Magazine, “When the officer told the mother to put her child down for the body search, I could see this look in the little girl’s eyes. As soon as her feet touched the ground she began to scream.”

Moore, who is also a father, told Time he was troubled by the scene, saying, “This one was tough for me. As soon as it was over, they were put into a van. I had to stop and take deep breaths,” he said. “All I wanted to do was pick her up. But I couldn’t.”


4. Yanela Denise’s Mom Is Seeking Political Asylum but Came to America for a Job, Reports Say

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Yanela Denise with her mother.

The father spoke at length to the UK Daily Mail, providing more details of the family’s life. “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 told the news organization.

According to Daily Mail, the father says he didn’t know his wife, who has three other underage children, was leaving with Yanela Denis for America, adding, “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.” He told the news site she was probably going to seek political asylum but came to America for a job and the “American Dream.” The dad works as a port captain in Honduras.


5. The Time Magazine Cover Provoked Controversy With the Trump Administration Saying It’s Misleading & Trump Opponents Saying It Captures the Heartbreak at the Border

Critics of the president say the photo has become the symbol of what they call the cruelty in Trump’s approach to border enforcement (much as the photo of Elian Gonzalez became a symbolic image years ago), especially the practice of separating family units so parents can be criminally prosecuted for unlawful entry to the country. The president reversed course via an executive order that will allow family units to stay together but vows to continue his zero tolerate prosecution policy.

However, supporters of the president say Time Magazine used the photo in a misleading fashion to attack the president. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted that claim.

Time Magazine has said it stands by the cover.

This story has been updated with the full statement from ICE and statements from ICE spokespeople and CBP.