White House accuses Democrats and media of exploiting toddler photo


June 22 (Reuters) - After weeks of criticism over the separation of immigrant families, the White House seized on a photo of a Honduran toddler seen sobbing at the U.S.-Mexican border to accuse Democrats and the media on Friday of exploiting the picture to push their agenda on immigration.

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The photograph, taken by Getty Images photographer John Moore at the scene of a border detention this month, became a powerful image in the media coverage of the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Dozens of newspapers and magazines including Time and the Washington Post published the image.

The image, widely seen as showing the girl crying over being parted from her mother, helped swell outrage at home and abroad that pushed President Donald Trump to back down on Wednesday on his administration's policy of separating children from their families while the adults were prosecuted for illegally crossing the border.

Getty's caption on the June 12 picture taken at the Texas border town of McAllen said the photo showed a 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker crying as her mother was searched and detained. The caption said the detention could lead to possible separation, not that this had occurred.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Friday the mother and child had not been separated, and accused Democrats and the media of exploiting the picture.

"It’s shameful that dems 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. Dems should join POTUS (the president) and fix our broken immigration system," she tweeted.

In an article about the picture, the Washington Post quoted Moore as saying that after he took the picture he feared the girl and her mother might be separated, but he did not know what happened to them.

Representatives from Getty Images did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

For its cover this week, titled "Welcome to America," Time magazine cropped the picture to show just the girl, juxtaposing it with a picture of Trump, as though he were looking down at her.

On Friday, Time published a correction saying: "The original version of this story misstated what happened to the girl in the photo after she (was) 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."

In Honduras, Denis Valera said on Thursday that his daughter and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, were detained together in McAllen, where Sanchez has applied for asylum, and they were not separated. Nevertheless, "My daughter has become a symbol of the ... separation of children at the U.S. border," Valera told Reuters in a phone interview.

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

Trump, a Republican, persistently accuses Democrats of being weak on immigration. He said in a tweet on Friday that "We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the (November) elections."

It was not clear if he was referring to the photo of the Honduran toddler.

Varela said Sanchez and her daughter had left Puerto Cortes, a Honduran port north of the capital city, Tegucigalpa, without telling him or the couple's three other children. (Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Frances Kerry in London, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa Writing by Frances Kerry Editing by Howard Goller)