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Migrant families separation poster girl not taken from mum

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A little girl who became the public face of US migrant family separations was not taken away from her mother at the US border, says her father.

A photograph of the Honduran toddler sobbing in a pink jacket was snapped at the scene of a border detention.

Time magazine has used the image for its latest cover, depicting President Donald Trump looming over the girl with the caption: “Welcome to America”.

But thousands of other child migrants have been taken from parents in the US.

The image was taken by photographer John Moore for the news agency Getty Images on 12 June at McAllen, Texas.

The Pulitzer prize-winner told the BBC that the mother had been breastfeeding her child after crossing the Rio Grande in a raft in the moments before they were detained.

Mr Moore said they were taken away together by border patrol.

The photo stoked outrage over the Trump administration’s child migrant separations policy, rolled out in April, of removing young undocumented people from their mothers and fathers as they are detained for crossing the US-Mexico border.

The photo helped secure $17m (£13m) in donations from hundreds of thousands of people on a Facebook fundraiser for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a Texas-based non-profit organisation.

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“My daughter has become a symbol of the separation of children at the US border,” Denis Valera told Reuters news agency.

“She may have even touched President Trump’s heart.”

“Seeing what was happening to her in that moment breaks anyone’s heart,” he added.

Mr Valera said his daughter and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, have been detained together in the border town of McAllen as Ms Sanchez sought asylum.

Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Nelly Jerez verified Mr Valera’s version of events to Reuters.

Carlos Ruiz, the Border Patrol agent who stopped Ms Sanchez and her daughter, said the mother was asked to set the child down so she could be searched.

“The kid immediately started crying as she set her down,” said Mr Ruiz. “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 little girl is two-year-old Yanela Denise, according to the Daily Mail newspaper.

Mr Valera said Ms Sanchez and their daughter had left the Honduran city of Puerto Cortes without telling him or the couple’s three other children.

He said he believed she went to the US in search of better economic opportunities.

Mr Valera told Reuters: “If they are deported, that is OK as long as they do not leave the child without her mother. I am waiting to see what happens with them.”

He told the Daily Mail he understands Ms Sanchez paid $6,000 to a smuggler to get her across the border.

According to the newspaper, the couple’s three other children are aged 14, 11 and six.

Mr Valera said: “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.”

Time magazine defended its cover on Friday, saying that the photograph of the girl “became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason”.

“Our cover and our reporting capture the stakes of this moment,” wrote the magazine’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal.

The magazine also corrected its story, which said the girl was “carried away screaming by US Border Patrol agents”, to instead say the mother and daughter were “taken away together”.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Twitter claimed that Democrats and the media “exploited this photo of a little girl to push their agenda”.

“She was not separated from her mom. The separation here is from the facts,” she wrote.

On Friday, Mr Trump accused Democrats of playing politics with “phony stories of sadness and grief”.

Approximately 2,300 children have been removed from their families since Mr Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy began in May, and housed in detention centres run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Some shelters, including three in Texas, house so-called “tender age” children, who are under five years old.

About 500 children have been reunited with their families since May, a Homeland Security official said on Thursday.

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