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The real story behind the kid in a cage photo circulating on social media

Technically there was a kid in a cage, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
The real story behind the kid in a cage photo
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A viral photo that purports to show a kid in a cage can soften even the hardest of hearts, but the story behind it isn't an accurate depiction of a very real situation.

"This is what happens when a government believes people are 'illegal'," Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in a tweet, along with a photo showing a sad kid in a cage pressing his face against the wires.

The photo — posted by notable figures like actor John Leguizamo — is meant to bring awareness to the plight of immigrant children separated from their families at the United States border.

The separation of children and parents is very real, but the photo of a kid in a cage isn’t an accurate representation of children in care facilities. According to Snopes, the photo was actually taken on June 10 at a protest in front of Dallas City Hall. The protest — organized to bring attention to the practice of separating undocumented immigrant children and parents — did show a kid in a cage, but it was a makeshift cage meant to make a point.

The child in the kid in a cage photo is later shown walking around in other photos. According to commenters, he was crying because he saw his mother but couldn’t figure out how to get to her.

Is ICE really separating immigrant children from their parents?

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero-tolerance" policy that pledged to separated immigrants crossing the border illegally from their children traveling with them.

"If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Sessions said at the time. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."

He added that all adults who cross the border illegally would be detained and turned over to U.S. marshals for federal prosecution. Any children traveling with them would be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement for placement in shelters or with other relatives in the United States.

The policy has resulted in an overwhelming number of children housed at government "day care" facilities, like the Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, Texas. The facility — converted from an old Walmart — currently houses over 1,500 of the 11,200 immigrant children being cared for by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to NBC News.

The network was one of the first to be granted access to Casa Padre. The children are locked inside dorm-style rooms for 22 hours a day — 21 on the weekends — and stay for an average of 52 days before being transferred. During the visit, a staff member asked the media to smile at children in a cafeteria line.

The reason? "They feel like animals in a cage being looked at."