Father says little Honduran girl on Time cover was not taken from mother

TEGUCIGALPA, June 21 (Reuters) - The Honduran toddler pictured sobbing in a pink jacket before U.S. President Donald Trump on an upcoming cover of Time magazine was not separated from her mother at the U.S. border, according to a man who says he is the girl's father.

The powerful original photograph, taken at the scene of a border detention by Getty Images photographer John Moore, became one of the iconic images in the flurry of media coverage about the separation of families by the Trump administration.

Dozens of newspapers and magazines around the globe published the picture, swelling the tide of outrage that pushed Trump to back down Wednesday and say families would no longer be separated.

"My daughter has become a symbol of the ... separation of children at the U.S. border. She may have even touched President Trump's heart," Denis Valera told Reuters in a telephone interview.

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.

Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez confirmed Valera's version of events.

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U.S. President Donald Trump's supporters, like Merilyn Cashman of Dana Point, CA, rally near the US-Mexico border for the presidential visit to California to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/John Gastaldo
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 13: A man wears a shirt mocking CNN as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally for the President during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by the President Trump since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Trump supporters gather as U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade drives past following his viewing of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
U.S. President Trump's supporter Cherie Wood of Chino Hills, CA looks skyward with binoculars trying to spot the president?s aircraft as Trump arrived close to her location during his visit to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/John Gastaldo
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 13: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump sing the National Anthem as they rally for the president during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by the President since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's supporters rally near the US-Mexico border for the presidential visit to California to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/John Gastaldo
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally for the president during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by President Trump since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's supporters wave to the presidential motorcade as it heads to Brown Field during the Trump's visit to California to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/John Gastaldo
Trump supporters hug after U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade drove past them following his viewing of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Activists and supporters gather await the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump to during his visit to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Trump supporters wear stars and stripes suits during a pro-Trump rally attended by about 500 people in San Diego, California, March 13, 2017, where President Trump was visiting the nearby border wall protoypes. / AFP PHOTO / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A large police presence watches over protesters and supporters during the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 13: Trump supporters John and Diana Turano, from La Puente, wait across the street from the Intercontinental Hotel where President Trump will spend the night in downtown Los Angeles on March 13, 2018. The Turano's waited in the rain hoping to get a glimpse of the President when he arrives. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Trump supporter Cherie Wood displays a pro-Trump sign during a pro-Trump rally attended by about 500 people in San Diego, California, March 13, 2017, where President Trump was visiting the nearby border wall protoypes. / AFP PHOTO / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporter Humbert Cabrera displays a pro-Trump sign during a pro-Trump rally attended by about 500 people in San Diego, California, March 13, 2017, where President Trump was visiting the nearby border wall protoypes. / AFP PHOTO / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump supporters sing the National Anthem and display pro-Trump signs during a pro-Trump rally attended by about 500 people in San Diego, California, March 13, 2017, where President Trump was visiting the nearby border wall protoypes. / AFP PHOTO / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally for the president during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by President Trump since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally for the president during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by President Trump since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally for the president during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by President Trump since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally for the president during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by President Trump since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 13: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump sing the National Anthem as they rally for the President during his visit to see the controversial border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The border visit is part of the first visit to California by President Trump since taking office despite criticism for not visiting the state after the record firestorms and a deadly debris flow in 2017. It also comes as a clash between the administration and state officials heats up with lawsuits on both sides concerning several issues, including immigrant protection and the possible deportation of Dreamers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Trump supporters display pro-Trump signs during a pro-Trump rally attended by about 500 people in San Diego, California, March 13, 2017, where President Trump was visiting the nearby border wall protoypes. / AFP PHOTO / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
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Varela said he was awestruck and pained when he first saw the photo of his crying daughter on TV. "Seeing what was happening to her in that moment breaks anyone's heart," he said.

The photo was used on a Facebook fundraiser that drew more than $17 million dollars in donations from close to half a million people for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based nonprofit that provides legal defense services to immigrants and refugees.

The Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy had led to the separation of 2,342 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9.

Video footage of separated children sitting in cages, an audiotape of wailing children and Moore's photo had sparked worldwide anger over Trump's immigration policies.

Sanchez and her daughter had left Puerto Cortes, a major Honduran port north of the capital city, Tegucigalpa, without telling Valera or the couple's three other children, he said.

He said he imagined that Sanchez left with the little girl for the United States, where she has family, in search of better economic opportunities.

"If they are deported, that is OK as long as they do not leave the child without her mother," Valera said. "I am waiting to see what happens with them." (Writing by Suman Nasihadham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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