'It Was Hard to Take These Pictures, Knowing What Was Coming Next'

A 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande River from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Sometimes, an image breaks through and captures the essence of a story that we've all been hearing about. John Moore made one of those images last week, when he photographed a 2-year-old Honduran girl stopped by the Border Patrol after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.


The photo is taken from her vantage point. Adults loom over her in the dark out of frame, and she's crying as her mother is searched.

Moore had been photographing Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley on June 12. On that moonless night, they encountered a group of people seeking to cross the border, most of them families.

"I could see the fear on their faces, in their eyes," says Moore, an award-winning photographer with Getty Images. "As the Border Patrol took people's names down, I could see a mother holding a young child."

A group of young men walk along the Mexican side of the border fence in a remote area of the Sonoran Desert in 2010 on the Tohono O'odham Reservation in Arizona
A group of young men walk along the Mexican side of the border fence in a remote area of the Sonoran Desert in 2010 on the Tohono O'odham Reservation in Arizona (John Moore/Getty Images)

Then, it was time for the undocumented immigrants to be searched before being transported to a processing center. The Border Patrol asked the mother to set down her daughter.

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"At that moment, the young child broke into tears, and she started wailing," Moore says. "I took a knee and had very few frames of that moment before it was over."

Moore, who speaks Spanish, was able to talk with them briefly. The mother told him they were from Honduras and had been on the road for a month.

A man looks through the U.S.-Mexico border fence into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, in 2016. Friendship Park on the border is one of the few places on the 2,000-mile border where separated families are allowed to meet.
A man looks through the U.S.-Mexico border fence into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, in 2016. Friendship Park on the border is one of the few places on the 2,000-mile border where separated families are allowed to meet. (John Moore/Getty Images)

"And I knew at that moment that this point in their journey, which was very emotional for me to see them being detained, for them was just part of a very, very long journey," says Moore, who has covered the U.S.-Mexico border for a decade.

After that, he says, the mother picked up her daughter. They got in a van and were taken away.

"I do not know what happened to them. I would very much like to know," he says. "Ever since I took those pictures, I think about that moment often. And it's emotional for me every time."

Families attend a memorial service for two boys who were kidnapped and killed on Feb. 14, 2017, in San Juan Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Such crimes have driven emigration from Guatemala to the United States, as families seek refuge from the violence.
Families attend a memorial service for two boys who were kidnapped and killed on Feb. 14, 2017, in San Juan Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Such crimes have driven emigration from Guatemala to the United States, as families seek refuge from the violence. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Interview Highlights

On how recent political developments have changed the story at the border

Having covered this story for the last 10 years, I've seen a lot along the way. But in this case, this last week, it was different because I knew that what happened after these pictures were taken was going to be something very different. Most of us here had heard the news that the [Trump] administration had planned to separate families. And these people [coming across the border] really had no idea about this news. And it was hard to take these pictures, knowing what was coming next.

Undocumented immigrants comfort each other after being caught by Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border in 2016 in Weslaco, Texas.
Undocumented immigrants comfort each other after being caught by Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border in 2016 in Weslaco, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

On what Border Patrol officials say about this new policy

I think with Border Patrol agents, it's all on an individual basis. Some of them are very supportive of President Trump's policies and others probably a little bit less so.

And I think it's important to note that the laws have not changed since President Trump came into office. It's really the administration's policies that have changed. In the past, most families who sought political asylum would be processed and then released, pending a court date in the future. And, of course, that policy has changed in recent months, and we're seeing the results of that now.

A boy from Honduras watches a movie at a detention facility run by the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas, in 2014. The Border Patrol opened the holding center to temporarily house the children after tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America crossed the border illegally into the United States during the spring and summer.
A boy from Honduras watches a movie at a detention facility run by the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas, in 2014. The Border Patrol opened the holding center to temporarily house the children after tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America crossed the border illegally into the United States during the spring and summer. (John Moore/Getty Images)

On how this story has affected him

As a photojournalist, it's my role to keep going, even when it's hard. But as a father — and I have a toddler myself — it was very difficult to see what was happening in front of my lens and thinking what it would be like for my kids to be separated from me.

U.S. Border Patrol agent Sal De Leon stands near a section of the U.S.- Mexico border fence while stopping on patrol in 2013 in La Joya, Texas.
U.S. Border Patrol agent Sal De Leon stands near a section of the U.S.- Mexico border fence while stopping on patrol in 2013 in La Joya, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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