Out-of-context photos circulate as US immigration rules change

·5-min read

As the United States moved to lift pandemic-era immigration restrictions, social media users have been claiming five photos show massive crowds of migrants streaming toward the country's southern border in May 2023. This is false; the pictures are not current, but were instead taken in Mexico between October 2018 and June 2022, reverse images searches show.

"A million illegal criminals are waiting to burst through our border next week - A full-scale invasion!" says a May 5, 2023 tweet from "ProudArmyBrat," an account that has previously shared other misinformation about the US border. "Millions will follow. So many reasons to impeach Mayorkas & Biden, but the GOP does nothing!"

The post, which features two aerial photos showing roads full with people walking together, is one of several that warned of an "invasion" alongside similar imagery.

<span>Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023</span>
Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023

The post spread in the days before the United States on May 11 lifted Title 42, a pandemic-era program former president Donald Trump put in place to swiftly expel people trying to enter the country, ostensibly to prevent entry by those with Covid-19.

AFP reported that many migrants turned themselves in to authorities ahead of the rule change, with some making last-minute efforts to cross the frontier before the deadline and the return of Title 8, a decades-old policy that allows border-crossers to seek asylum but includes harsh penalties for those caught trying to enter illegally.

US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz tweeted on May 12 that there were more than 67,000 apprehensions at the border in the previous week.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sought to send a message to potential migrants that border security remained in place: "I want to be very clear, our borders are not open," Mayorkas said on May 11.

But the pictures the tweet claims show millions "waiting to burst through our border" are almost five years outdated.

Reverse image searches show the left-hand photo in the tweet was originally captured by Getty Images (archived here) on October 21, 2018, when Trump was in office.

According to the photo's caption, it shows a "caravan" of Central American migrants near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico after having crossed the border with Guatemala en route to the United States.

AFP and US media reported at the time that the caravan began with a group fleeing violence in Honduras and grew to several thousand people, generating headlines and political controversy.

The right-hand photo in the tweet was taken by the Associated Press (archived here) on October 27, 2018. It shows the group in Arriaga, Mexico, nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 kms) from the US state of Texas.

More October 2018 photos

Other pictures from October 2018 have also been misrepresented in the leadup to Title 42's expiration, including an AFP photo captured as the crowd was temporarily held up on a bridge leaving Arriaga.

Another -- in a May 11, 2023 tweet warning of an "invasion" -- actually shows the migrants in Ciudad Hidalgo on October 21, 2018. The Associated Press took the original (archived here).

<span>Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023</span>
Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023

Photo from April 2018

A May 8, 2023 tweet, from an account that has previously posted other misrepresented visuals allegedly from the border, shares a close-up picture of a pack of people moving together.

The post says: "(RT) if you want @GregAbbott_TX to close the (Txs) border in order to stop the invasion of our country, RIGHT NOW."

<span>Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023</span>
Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023

But while the text suggests the picture is a current depiction of migration toward the US border, a reverse image search reveals the shot was originally published by CNN on April 2, 2018.

The image appears as a still in a video published alongside an article (archived here) about a discussion then-president Trump had about immigration with allies at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Emily Kuhn, vice president of CNN communications, said of the image: "It is from 2018 and is a still of video shot at that time."

The shot depicts a group of Central Americans that crossed into Mexico en route to the United States, Kuhn said, citing its caption.

Photo from June 2022

A fourth photo, in which Honduran and Venezuelan flags can be seen amid a swarm of people, appears in a tweet calling for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to be impeached.

"Why do we have an 'Invasion' at our border about to take and our elected officials are ignoring the severity of it," the May 10, 2023 post says. "The minute Title 42 ends, impeachment proceedings should begin for both Biden & Border Czar Harris."

<span>Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023</span>
Screenshot from Twitter taken May 11, 2023

Another tweet sharing the image adds, "If we were being invaded by millions of Hispanic Nazis someone would've done something, right?"

However, the photo dates to June 6, 2022, when thousands of people in southern Mexico took off for the United States, their journey timed to coincide with the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, where migration was a topic of discussion.

Reuters snapped the picture (archived here) in Tapachula, Mexico -- more than 1,000 miles from the US border.

Mexico's National Institute of Migration said in a statement days later (archived here) that it had dissolved a crowd of approximately 7,000 that left Tapachula. The agency said authorities talked with the group's leaders and provided documents enabling them to stay in Mexico.

AFP previously fact-checked another photo of the June 2022 caravan that was misrepresented online.

AFP has also debunked other misinformation about Title 42's expiration here and here.