Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Accused of Holding 'Photo Op' in 'Pristine White Outfit' at Migrant Child Tent City—It Was Actually a Protest

A year ago, a group of protesters made headlines as they gathered outside a "tent city" in Tornillo, Texas, temporarily housing migrant children to rally against the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" crackdown on immigration.

Among the group, was a little-known first-time candidate for Congress who would, just two days later, go on to make headlines of her own after delivering one of the biggest upsets in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Few were aware that just two days before defeating 10-term incumbent Representative Joe Crowley on June 26, 2018, Ocasio-Cortez had taken time out of her campaign to visit the Tornillo tent city where more than 6,000 children would go on to be held in the wake of the Trump administration's widely-condemned family separation policy.

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awy frm her campaign & came dwn to #Tornillo to protest the #tentcity housing migrant children.I made these previously unpublished fotos a yr ago today. #elpaso #aoc #onassignment

— Ivan Pierre Aguirre (@i_p_a_1) June 25, 2019

On Monday, photos of an emotional Ocasio-Cortez standing outside the facility made their way onto Twitter after writer and photographer Ivan Pierre Aguirre decided to share the "previously unpublished" photos a year after they were taken.

"Before [Ocasio-Cortez] hit the national stage and was just a fairly unknown House candidate from NYC, she took time [away from ] her campaign and came down to #Tornillo to protest the #tentcity housing migrant children," Aguirre wrote a tweet, sharing photos of Ocasio-Cortez's visit.

In one photo, the now-New York representative looks sadly into the camera's lens, while in another, she appears visibly distressed, crying into her hands.

Sharing the photos on her own Twitter page, Ocasio-Cortez said she will "never forget" that day "because 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 [and] caged them."

"More kids died after this. To date, no one has been held accountable," she said. "We need to save these kids."

I’ll never forget this, because 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.

More kids died after this. To date, no one has been held accountable.

We need to save these kids.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 25, 2019

While both Aguirre and Ocasio-Cortez shared the photos to mark a powerful moment, many on Twitter were critical of the images, accusing Ocasio-Cortez of holding a "photo op" outside the Tornillo tent city, with critics scrutinizing the politician's decision to wear red lipstick and an all-white outfit during her visit.

"Excuse me while I take the time to put on bright red lipstick, a pristine white outfit and a Movado watch before I go see little kids locked up in the desert," one commentator wrote, mocking Ocasio-Cortez.

"Nice photo session in your lily white outfit n big red mouth," another wrote. "All that dramatic're a piece of work! This looks like a photo shoot for a magazine."

Another branded Ocasio-Cortez "disgusting" for "wearing all white and posing next to those fences...Please...This is so petty."

While other politicians, including Beto O'Rourke, have not appeared to face the same level of scrutiny over their choice of dress during similar visits to Tornillo, critics also may not have realized that Ocasio-Cortez was not the only one wearing white that day.

In fact, protesters appear to have coordinated to wear all-white ahead of the June 24, 2018 rally, with photos of the event showing demonstrators clad in all-white outfits.

Organizers of immigration protests at the time had been encouraging participants to wear white, with Families Belong Together, an organization supporting families separated by the Trump administration, saying it is a "striking visual symbol that will also connect attendees in solidarity to each other and channel historic social justice movements unified by one color of clothing."

While wearing all-white has historically been associated with the suffrage movement, it has been worn since then in shows of solidarity for protests including immigration rallies in support of migrants and asylum seekers.

In addition to criticizing Ocasio-Cortez's outfit and decision to allow herself to be photographed outside the Tornillo tent facility a year ago, commenters have also taken the opportunity to call on the New York representative to make a visit to a "real concentration camp" after she insisted that migrant detention centers in the U.S. were effectively concentration camps.

"Why won't you agree to go and see real concentration camps, as a [Polish politician Dominik Tarczyński] offered? Then you could make an informed comparison if you wish," Raheem Kassam, global editor-in-chief of news and commentary website Human Events, wrote in response to Ocasio-Cortez's post sharing the photos from the Tornillo protest.

"Right now you're just posing by disasters for pictures, then denigrating the Holocaust for political gain," Kassam said.

While Ocasio-Cortez has faced backlash over her comparison of migrant detention centers to concentration camps, many, including high-profile academics, have rallied behind the 29-year-old, asserting that she is "completely historically accurate" in her use of the phrase.

Tornillo protest
Protesters stand outside the Tornillo-Guadalupe port of entry gate on June 24, 2018 in Tornillo, Texas, where migrant children apprehended at the border were being held. One of the protesters present at the event was then-candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Joe Raedle/Getty