On December 24 2019, a photograph shared to Twitter circulated with the claim that it showed “a detainee trying to feed her baby,” heavily implying that the image showed victims of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, in which thousands of children have been taken from their guardians at the United States border as punishment for asking for asylum (which is legal under both American and international law):
The tweet said:
A detainee trying to feed her baby. To say they’re a humanitarian crisis is an understatement, because there’s nothing humane about this. Let her feed her baby.
Modern day Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus at our border?
It seems Christian hypocrisy abounds!
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
However, none of the shares provided links to articles or any other contextual information about the photograph or its backstory. We did a reverse image search to date the photograph and determine whether it actually showed a woman detained at the United States border in 2019 feeding her baby through a fence.
Google suggested a caption, “Argentinian police breast feeding.” In June 2014, the image was shared to Reddit’s r/horriblydepressing; as such, it was definitively miscaptioned, as it could not have been taken later than June 2014:
Reverse image search led to an even earlier result, a blog post published on January 13 2013. That post did not mention that the woman was a police officer, but read in part:
In Argentina, in compliance with the “federal plan”, the police have placed a perimeter fence in a busy neighborhood and those who leave or have already left cannot return. In addition, the services have been cut and they won’t let food pass. The place is manned by 70 policemen while they await a reinforcement of another 70. The occupants of the houses, together with many inhabitants of the neighborhood who came to the rescue, insist on staying.
The young mother is not brought back and the father and the child are not brought out of the perimeter. This is the condition in which the mother can feed her baby. The shame of a state has no geography.
According to the blog post, the image showed a woman feeding her own baby through a perimeter fence in a neighborhood in Argentina. We were unable to determine whether there was any validity to the “Argentinian police breastfeeding” aspect of the story, but we were unable to do so.
An Associated Press article about the image’s recirculation reported what appeared largely to be information from the same blog post:
In reality, the photo was first posted on January 13, 2013, in Bahía Blanca, Argentina. According to local reports, public housing was under construction in the Villa Defina neighborhood. The photo was reportedly taken at the unfinished complex, where a number of people were squatting. They were removed from the vicinity several days later.
It wasn’t clear why the woman was breastfeeding through a fence.
Multiple media outlets at the time shared the photo crediting radio station 87.9 FM. A local television station, Somos Bahía Blanca, also published the photo on their YouTube account on January 14, 2013.
It seems likely that the image of a baby being breastfed through a fence in Argentina became muddled with a separate August 2018 story that also involved a police officer in Argentina. In that instance, an on-duty Argentinian police officer comforted a distressed infant by breastfeeding the baby. She was later promoted, but that story featured an image striking in its own right.
Numerous Twitter users and Facebook pages shared the “Nativity 2019” photo, purportedly depicting a female detainee feeding her baby through a fence at the border between Mexico and the United States. Although the image appeared to be unaltered, it was taken on or before January 13 2013, most likely in Argentina. According to a local blog post, it showed the effects of fences in a poor neighborhood, and the inability of residents to enter or leave. It was not taken at any point in 2019, and it was not taken anywhere near the U.S-Mexico border.