A picture speaks a thousand words. There are certain iconic pictures, think of the Buddhist monk setting himself on fire, soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima, the terror struck student standing over a dead body at Kent State, "John-John" Kennedy standing at attention after his father's assassination, a student bravely standing as tanks roll towards him at Tiananmen square, have even become an indelible part of the collective consciousness. Two of the most recent photos to have gained a sort of iconic status as of late are purported to be related to Trump's immigration policies. I say purported because in both cases, the thousand words connected to each picture are a far cry from what they actually represent.
Of course there are the photos of "immigrant children in cages" that has been since debunked. The photo actually is of a demonstration protesting former President Obama's immigration policies. Regardless of that, regardless of the fact that children are not actually held in cages, the image has sunk into the collective unconscious as much as the Hindenburg's explosion or the Twin Towers falling. It's as real in many people's minds as if Trump actually kept children in kennels.
More recently, there is the Time magazine cover that features a silhouette of Trump staring down at a sobbing immigrant girl. The composite image implies that Trump is looking on coldly as this poor girl cries at being separated from her parents.
The problem is, that's not at all what happened.
The photo, by John Moore of Getty Images, was featured in dozens of print and online sources. It was the thumbnail for a Facebook fundraiser that has raised more than $17 million dollars in donations from half a million people for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based nonprofit organization. According to Denis Valera, though, that sobbing little girl was never separated from Sandra Sanchez (her mother). They are both detained in McAllen,a Texas border town where Sanchez has applied for asylum. The Honduran deputy foreign minister corroborated Valera's
"You know, you think about it, when someone gets arrested for a crime — let's say an American citizen gets arrested for a crime, for murder, for burglary, for whatever — if you're arrested for a crime, you're separated from your children, you're put in prison. If you're the only caregiver for that child, then you've got to find alternative care for those children. That is often another family member or, if need be, it's a foster family or some other means to care for kids. That is the inevitable consequence of somebody being arrested for a crime.
Muzaffar Chishti, a New York lawyer for the Migration Policy Institute, called Cruz's claim an "inverse interpretation" of the Flores agreement. Rick Su of the University of Buffalo School of Law told Politifact that the Trump administration made clear it wasn't in favor of releasing parents and children – which left it with the options of sending parents to prison and releasing children or sending parents to prison and sending children to child detention facilities overseen by the government. But he admitted the Cruz statement was technically correct but misleading in that it leaves the inaccurate impression that the government, by policy and law, has no choice but to separate children from parents.
The Flores agreement ruled that minors must be placed in the "least restrictive" setting and, if at all possible, released to family members. Some have pointed out that the Flores agreement related to minors who sought asylum and were crossing the border without an adult or family member. The Flores agreement, however, was clarified by a 2016 ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals states that the Flores agreement applies to all minors, whether or not they are unaccompanied. During the Obama administration, the appeals court upheld the refusal by a lower court to have adults and minors who were family detained together. In short, the Flores agreement requires children to be placed with family members or in "the least restrictive" environment, i.e. <i>not</i> in kennels.
If you're going to be pissed off about our immigration laws, you have a right to. All I ask is be angry for the right reasons. For whatever reasons, Obama (who still holds the record as a president for deportations) got a pass. For whatever reasons, Obama era photos and recent ones are misrepresented. A picture is worth a thousand words. Just make sure the words happen to be true.