WARNING: Story contains graphic image.The photograph shows the drowned bodies of Salvadoran refugee Ocar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and Valeria, his 23-month-old daughter, locked in a final embrace as they tried to cross the Rio Grande river from the Mexican city of Matamoros to Brownsville, Texas.The image has quickly come to symbolize the humanitarian crisis on America’s southern border and it caused an outpouring of sympathy from across the globe. “The Pope is profoundly saddened by their death, and is praying for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery,” said the Vatican, whose newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, put the picture on its front page.The New York Times called the image a “portrait of desperation” and said it could galvanize attention similar to the picture of refugee child Alan Kurdi who drowned in the Mediterranean and whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015. His family had been trying to immigrate to Canada.I told him not to follow the American dream
Leading U.S. Democrats were quick to lay the blame for the tragedy directly at the president’s door.“Trump is responsible for these deaths,” presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke bluntly stated in a tweet. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the two front-runners in the Democratic race, also lambasted the president. Sanders called the photograph “horrific,” saying it demonstrated “the reckless disregard for basic humanity that has come from Trump’s policies.”Biden called it “gut-wrenching” and “unconscionable.”Trump was defiant, saying the picture was proof that he “was right” about a crisis on the border and he turned his fire on Democrats who have opposed his immigration policies, including funding for his proposed border wall.“I hate it,” he said of the picture. “And I know it could stop immediately if the Democrats change the laws and then that father, who probably was a wonderful guy, with his daughter, things like this wouldn’t happen. That’s a very dangerous journey.”
The drowned bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria lie the Rio Bravo river in Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state, Mexico, June 24, 2019.
Migrants face long waits to apply for asylum at the United States’ shared border with Mexico as U.S. officials enforce a policy of “metering,” which limits the number of people who can apply each day.That system has contributed to growing numbers of migrants crossing the border illegally to hand themselves into authorities and ask for asylum.Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration and asylum claims a cornerstone of his presidency, most recently with a plan to send thousands of asylum seekers back to Mexico while their cases are considered.As part of the plan, the Mexican government has so far deployed more than 20,000 troops to its borders to stem the tide of migrants. But human rights organizations have warned that the move risks causing migrants to attempt ever more dangerous routes to reach the U.S.Choking back tears as she held the photograph of her son and granddaughter, Rosa Ramirez said she urged Oscar Martinez before he left El Salvador not to try for asylum in the United States.
Rosa Ramirez, mother of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande River with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., at her house in San Martin, El Salvador, June 26, 2019.
“I told him not to follow the American dream,” she told Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa, citing the dangers of the journey. “Sadly what you all know happened. We are appealing to God because he is the only one who gives us strength.”Despite his mother’s pleas, Oscar and his family left El Salvador in April, hoping to find work in the United States and eventually buy a house, Ramirez said.According to local media reports, Ramirez had grown frustrated with the processing system at the Puerta Mexico migrant camp, and felt there was little hope of his request for asylum ever being processed. Tania Vanessa Avalos, his wife, said the family had been kept for two months.On Sunday, Ramirez and his wife decided on an illegal crossing into the U.S. by swimming the Rio Grande. Ramirez took Valeria in his arms and swam across, setting her on the other side before returning to his wife.
The bodies of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria, migrants who drowned in the Rio Grande river during their journey to the U.S., are seen inside a hearse in Matamoros, Mexico, June 26, 2019.
But as he started swimming back, his daughter fell into the water. He turned back and grabbed her. He must have tucked her under his T-shirt to try to keep her close in the rushing water. In the photo, her arm appears to be around his neck. But they were swallowed by a strong current as Valeria’s mother looked on in horror.“Where is my husband?” she screamed as rescue workers at the river bank carried away a stretcher covered with a white sheet, video images show.On the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, held up the photo of Ramirez and his daughter.“President Trump, I want you to look at this photo,” Schumer said. “These are not drug dealers. Or vagrants or criminals. They are simply people fleeing a horrible situation in their home country for a better life.”The Senate vote to approve $4.6 billion in emergency spending for the U.S.-Mexico border.But despite the overwhelming 84-to-8 vote and a bipartisan sense of urgency to act, a struggle loomed with the House, which passed a different version of the spending bill on Tuesday that contains greater restrictions on the Trump administration and is opposed by the White House.Senate Republicans oppose the House bill, too, and were urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, to take up and pass the bipartisan Senate version before Congress leaves town for a 10-day recess as soon as Thursday. But Pelosi ruled that out, telling reporters: “They pass their bill. We respect that. We passed our bill, we hope they would respect that. And there’s some improvements that we think can be reconciled.”Trump himself sounded notes of optimism as he spoke about the legislation outside the White House prior to departing for the G20 summit in Japan.“What they’re working on is aid, humanitarian aid for the children. It seems that the Senate is very close,” Trump said. “I think that Nancy wants to get something done, and the Senate and the House will get together. I think they’ll be able to do something very good.”— With files from Reuters, The Washington Post