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On June 24, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez retweeted images that an El Paso photographer took of her at a Texas town on the U.S.-Mexico border last year.
"Before @AOC hit the national stage & was just a fairly unknown House candidate frm NYC, she took time awy frm her campaign & came dwn to #Tornillo to protest the #tentcity housing migrant children," tweeted photographer Ivan Pierre Aguirre, who has been helping cover family separations for the Texas Tribune. "I made these previously unpublished fotos a yr ago today. #el paso #aoc #onassignment."
Ocasio-Cortez said she would never forget that day.
"It was the moment I saw with my own eyes that the America I love was becoming a nation that steals refugee children from their parents,& caged them," she said, retweeting images of her standing in front of a chain-link fence with a pained look on her face.
Critics pounced, posting to social media that the congresswoman was crying over nothing more than a parking lot. Among the stories echoing that sentiment were two shared on Facebook. One was from RT, the Russian government-backed news organization, and another was from conservative news outlet PJ Media, which ran a story with this headline: "AOC weeps over empty parking lot."
Both Facebook posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
We reached out to Aguirre about the claims Ocasio-Cortez was crying over a parking lot.
Aguirre didn’t know who the then-congressional candidate was when he took the photos, he told PolitiFact. She was among others protesting outside of the tent city erected near El Paso to house undocumented immigrant children.
"It isn’t a parking lot," Aguirre said. "It’s the road leading to the camp."
In effort to corroborate that claim, we looked at photos and other coverage from that day.
"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is embraced at the Tornillo-Guadalupe port of entry gate on June 24, 2018 in Tornillo, Texas. She is part of a group protesting the separation of children from their parents after they were caught entering the U.S. under the administration's zero tolerance policy."
Anne Flanagan, senior director and head of external communications of Getty Images, confirmed that, as the caption reads, "Joe Raedle photographed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the port of entry gate to Tornillo-Guadalupe."
The photo is part of a collection of photos from that day that document the protest.
Raedle’s cutline description of a fence near the port of entry matches what other photographers, a reporter and various images depict of the tent facility.
The Tornillo-Guadalupe toll plaza was where protestors — including Ocasio-Cortez — entered on June 24, 2018, and then ventured on a road that curved to the left, which led to a chain fence that was near shrubs and a wall with a sign for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
One can more easily view the layout of that portion of the Tornillo site in this overhead photo from Getty that was taken three days prior to the June 24 protest:
Krantz said that Ocasio-Cortez and other protesters who stood at the fencing were gathered at the wall pictured on the right hand side of the toll plaza, where the crowd is located in the June 21 photo above. They were in the area seen in the upper right of this image, just beyond where the three dark vehicles appear to be parked. If you zoom into that June 21 Getty image, you will see the wall and what appears to be the sign for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Demonstrators weren’t allowed to pass the fence on June 24, Aguirre and Lisa Krantz, a photographer for the San Antonio Express-News, independently told PolitiFact.
"I was there, and it was not an empty parking lot," Krantz said. "It was where the Tornillo camp was set up. There was a large demonstration outside that fence and that camp. The congressmen went inside for a tour."
Krantz also captured Ocasio-Cortez gripping the fence on June 24, 2018, and noted in her caption that Ocasio-Cortez "holds on to a fence outside the tent city." In an interview with PolitiFact, Krantz confirmed that Ocasio-Cortez was facing the facility in the photo, not a parking lot. Krantz said she, Ocasio-Cortez and others had passed through the toll plaza before arriving at the fence.
Krantz also confirmed the fence in front of Ocasio-Cortez was positioned on a road that led to the facility, and that on either side of the road was a stone wall.
When looking at Aguirre’s images of Ocasio-Cortez, we see what appears to be a wall on the right side of the frame and, visible at the top of some is barbed wire. Krantz reviewed her own pictures from that day and said that the portion of the wall to the right of the frame (which peeks out from Ocasio-Cortez’ shoulder in this image) bore a sign for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
We also see that fencing, signage and wall in detail in a photo of Holocaust survivor Margaret Houffelaar, which was taken by photographer Kisha Bari for Cosmopolitan Magazine as well as in this photo from Getty. (Krantz also took a picture of Houffelaar in front of the same wall.)
But was there a parking lot nearby? Krantz said she remembers a small parking lot that was near the toll plaza that wasn’t fenced in, but many people parked under the toll plaza shelter for shade or alongside the road that led to the toll plaza— which is depicted in a photo from Cosmopolitan Magazine.
Daniel Borunda, a reporter for the El Paso Times who was at the rally on the same day, told PolitiFact that the tent complex was "visible in the distance several hundred yards away" from the fence.
A viral image of Ocasio-Cortez at a 2018 demonstration at a Texas town on the U.S.-Mexico border includes the caption, "AOC weeps over empty parking lot."
Photographers at the scene who took photos of Ocasio-Cortez say she was not facing a parking lot. Rather she was just beyond the toll plaza for the Tornillo facility, and she standing on a road that led to the Tornillo tent complex, which was in the line of her gaze, as she stood at the fence. Pictures by other outlets also confirm the location.
We rate this claim False.
Clarification: Several references to the "port of entry" in the original version of this story have been revised to more specifically refer to the toll plaza. The changes do not affect the ruling.
Ivan Pierre Aguirre tweet, June 24, 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweet, June 24, 2019
PJ Media, AOC weeps over empty parking lot, June 26, 2019
Getty Images, Despite Trump Executive Order, Over 2300 Migrant Children Still Held In Camps, June 24, 2018
Getty Images, USA: Despite Trump's Executive Order, Thousands Of Migrant Children Still Held In Camps, Accessed July 17, 2019
The Texas Tribune, Operator of migrant facility in Tornillo says it might not stay open past July 13 when contract expires, June 25, 2018
El Paso Times, Hundreds protest in Tornillo against separation of immigrant children, family detention, June 25, 2018
Reuters, Reuters Pictures - USA - Immigration/Children, October 18, 2018
The United States Conference of Mayors, Nation’s Mayors Head to Tornillo, Texas to Protest Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy, June 19, 2018
Cosmopolitan Magazine, Celebrities and Activists Protest a Texas Tent City That Could Hold Up to 4,000 Children, June 24, 2018
Getty Images, US-MEXICO-IMMIGRATION-MAYORS-RALLY-MIGRANTS, June 21, 2018
San Antonio Express News, 30 migrant parents separated from children released in El Paso, June 24, 2018
FXSA, Tornillo/Guadalupe New International Bridge, Accessed July 16, 2019
Interview with Ivan Pierre Aguirre, freelance photographer, July 9, 2019
Interview with Lisa Krantz, a photographer for the San Antonio Express-News, July 16, 2019
Interview with Daniel Borunda, reporter for the El Paso Times, July 12 and 16, 2019
Email exchange with Anne Flanagan, senior director and head of external communications of Getty Images, July 17, 2019
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