THE UNSEEN

What to make of those photos of US detention centers for children

An aerial photo of immigrant children at a recently opened facility in Tornillo, Texas.
An aerial photo of immigrant children at a recently opened facility in Tornillo, Texas.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
By
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

On Father’s Day, many US lawmakers shared photos of their children and affirmed the value of family. The timing couldn’t have been worse: That same day, US Customs and Border Protection released inflammatory photos of an immigrant processing center in McAllen, Texas, where the government is forcibly separating detained parents from children.

Some news outlets have rejected the government-issued detention center photos as propaganda. However, even official depictions of the steel-wire enclosures have sparked calls for the Trump administration to change its tactics.

Children inside the Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas.
Children inside the Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas.
Image: US Customs and Border Protection via Reuters

On Monday (June 18) more photos were released, this time from the US Department of Health and Human Services showing a tent city for teenage boys in Tornillo, Texas. These government handouts are striking for the total absence of the children themselves.

Whereas photos from other facilities showed detainees, the new images are totally empty, distancing viewers from children’s actual experience of detention.

The Tornillo facility, a shelter for children of detained migrants, is seen in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in Tornillo, Texas,
The Tornillo facility, a shelter for children of detained migrants, is seen in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in Tornillo, Texas,
Image: HHS via Reuters
An indoor facility at the Tornillo shelter.
An indoor facility at the Tornillo shelter.
Image: HHS via Reuters

Aerial photos from Reuters, in contrast, show children being led through the facility in a line.

Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump administration, walk in single file between tents on June 18.
Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump administration, walk in single file between tents on June 18.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake

As images and descriptions of detained migrant children continue to circulate, some have pointed out a jarring juxtaposition with government and White House officials’ “family-friendly” public narrative.

Over the weekend, House speaker Paul Ryan shared a video about the importance of fatherhood, which drew jeers online. Ryan has been criticized for inaction on the issue of family separation.

A Father’s Day tweet from the personal account of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders drew similar backlash.

Another target of criticism has been Ivanka Trump. Daughter and official advisor to the president, one of her signature areas of interest is child care. Yet Trump has stayed near-silent on the forced separation of migrant parents and children. Trump’s latest Instagram post, proudly displaying her own family intact, with all three children clustered around husband Jared Kushner, has drawn hundreds of angry comments.