The photo has been called the US’s Alan Kurdi moment, referencing the photo of a three-old-boy washed up on a beach that became a defining moment of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Rabat – An extremely graphic photo of a 23-month-old girl and a father lying face down in the Rio Grande, a river that runs through the US and Mexico, is circulating.
The photo, which shows the girl still clinging onto her father, was taken by journalist Julia Le Duc and published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada.
The man, identified as Oscar Alberto Martínez, was attempting to enter the US on Sunday, June 23, by crossing the Rio Grande and turned around to get his wife when his 23-month-old daughter, named Valeria, saw him swimming away and jumped after him.
Julia Le Duc told the Mexican newspaper that father clung to the little girl after she jumped in, but a strong current swept them to their deaths. Martinez’s wife, who watched the whole devastating scene unfold, alerted authorities and a 12-hour search ensued to find the bodies.
The family originally hailed from El Salvador and entered Mexico two months ago on a humanitarian visa. Reportedly frustrated by the wait time for immigration services to process the family’s case, they went to a point of entry on the easternmost part of the border to request asylum.
Upon realizing the Mexican border office is closed on Sundays, the family then set out on foot along the river, until they reached the point where they tried to cross.
Martinez’s sister told Salvadoran daily newspaper El Diario de Hoy that “they said they were scared of how the situation of migrants was unfolding, under Trump’s pressure. That is why they decided to cross.”
Rosa Ramirez, the mother of Martinez, told the same newspaper that she had begged the family not to leave, but could not get them to “give up their hopes of the American dream.”
Since becoming elected, US President Donald Trump has focused on deterring migrant crossings, increasing deportations and the level of migration to the US. As a result, it is now harder for asylum seekers to turn themselves in at ports of entry, pushing more migrants to take deadly risks and cross in more dangerous areas.
US Border Patrol reported 283 migrant fatalities along the border in 2018, although the number may be higher.
Shock waves ripple throughout the US and beyond
The photo has caused outrage both in the US internationally over the human suffering at borders. Democratic presidential candidates took to Twitter to denounce the situation, with candidate Kamala Harris calling the situation “inhumane.”
“These families seeking asylum are often fleeing extreme violence,” she tweeted. “And what happens when they arrive? Trump says, ‘Go back to where you came from.’ That is inhumane. Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience.”
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke tweeted: “Trump is responsible for these deaths.”
“As his administration refuses to follow our laws — preventing refugees from presenting themselves for asylum at our ports of entry — they cause families to cross between ports, ensuring greater suffering & death. At the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety,” O’Rourke continued.
El Salvador is also mourning for the deceased father and daughter. El Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele expressed sorrow for the deaths and has begun the procedure for repatriating the bodies.
“Someday we will finish building a country where migrating will be an option, not an obligation,” Bukele said in a statement.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement saying it was deeply shocked to see the “heart-breaking” photos of the two victims.
UNHCR also pointed out the similarities between the photo of the father and daughter and a tragic photo that circulated in 2015. The photo showed the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy, named Alan Kurdi, who drowned off the Greek island of Kos.
The image defined the Syrian refugee crisis, shocked EU leaders, and led to increased concerns about the refugee crisis. “We are once again confronted with powerful visual evidence of people dying during their dangerous journeys across borders, ” the UNHCR said on Wednesday.
One Twitter user dubbed Monday’s devastating photo the US’s Alan Kurdi moment and called for it to be put on the front page of every newspaper so the situation can no longer be ignored.
This is America’s Alan Kurdi moment. Put this picture on the front page of every newspaper in America. https://t.co/ZBJwT8AjfD
— Antonio De Loera (@AntonioDeLoeraB) June 25, 2019
Trump did not directly comment on the tragic incident, but he may have indirectly addressed the situation when on Tuesday he blamed Democrats for wanting “open borders” and tweeted that migrants were flocking to the US because of its good economy.
Too bad the Dems in Congress won’t do anything at all about Border Security. They want Open Borders, which means crime. But we are getting it done, including building the Wall! More people than ever before are coming because the USA Economy is so good, the best in history.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2019