Are these your ‘animals’, Mr Trump? Photo of drowned father and daughter at US border illustrates ultimate human cost of president’s attitude towards families desperately seeking a better life

‘I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home,’ says grandmother

Zamira Rahim
Wednesday 26 June 2019 14:31 BST
'He said we are fine here' Mother of drowned migrant father speaks after learning devastating news

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A 23-month-old girl lies face down in the waters of the Rio Grande, tucked into her father’s black t-shirt. Her arm is draped around his neck, suggesting she died clutching his body.

The image of the bodies of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria has prompted outrage across Mexico and the US, further highlighting the plight faced by Central American migrants hoping to claim asylum in America.

Mr Ramirez crossed the river which separates the neighbouring countries on Sunday, carrying his child, according to La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper.

The 25-year-old placed the girl on the US bank of the river and started to return to the other side, to fetch his wife, when his daughter jumped after him.

Mr Martinez caught hold of Valeria, but both were swept away by the current. The pair were found dead shortly afterwards.

The father and daughter’s bodies were found together in the Rio Grande
The father and daughter’s bodies were found together in the Rio Grande (AP)

Amid tears and screams, Tania Vanessa Avalos, Mr Ramirez’s wife, reportedly described the drowning to police officers at the scene.

The family fled their home in El Salvador on 3 April and lived for around two months in a shelter in Tapachula, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

Mr Ramirez decided to swim across the river after reportedly growing frustrated over the family’s inability to present themselves to US border authorities and formally request asylum.

A Mexican state official said the family visited the US consulate in the city of Matamoros early on Sunday.

Asylum claims in the US can take months and years to process. It is unclear what occurred at the consulate but the family decided to cross the river later that day.

“When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further ... and he couldn’t get out,” Rosa Ramirez, the 25-year-old’s mother, said.

“He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”

Ms Ramirez is in El Salvador and spoke to her daughter-in-law on the phone after the drownings.

“I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home,” she said.

“They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house.”

The Independent has taken the decision to publish the image in an effort to illustrate the human cost of the Trump administration’s approach towards immigration and those families desperately attempting to enter the country in search of a better life.

The photograph was taken by Julia Le Duc, a Mexican journalist.

Newspapers in the country have compared the image of the father and daughter to a 2015 photograph of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean.

“Very regrettable that this would happen,” Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Mexican president, said.

“We have always denounced that as there is more rejection in the United States, there are people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing [the river]”.

Mexico has attempted to work with the Trump administration on the migrant crisis, which has been fuelled by people fleeing unrest and violence in Central America.

The Trump administration’s immigration policy has dramatically reduced the number of migrants who are allowed to request asylum, down from dozens per day previously to sometimes just a handful at some ports of entry.

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“With greater crackdowns and restrictions,” said Cris Ramon, senior immigration policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank in Washington, “we could see more desperate measures by people trying to enter Mexico or the US.”

Mr Trump himself has frequently used demonising language when talking of immigrants – not least those crossing the US-Mexico border – employing terms such as “animals”, “stone cold criminals” and “bad hombres” who he has described as “infesting our country”.

A series of Democratic candidates hoping to face Mr Trump in the 2020 presidential race spoke out in response to the photo.

Beto O’Rourke said “Trump is responsible for these deaths”, while Cory Booker also sought to link the deaths to the president’s policies, saying: “These are the consequences of Donald Trump’s inhumane and immoral immigration policy. This is being done in our name.”

Kamala Harris said: “That is inhumane. Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience.”

In 2018 283 migrants died crossing between ports of entry.

Mr Ramirez and Valeria’s bodies will be flown to El Salvador on Thursday.

There was no immediate comment on the tragedy from the Trump administration.

Additional reporting by agencies

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