Donald Trump has blamed asylum laws for the death of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, whose drowning at the US border sparked international condemnation of the president’s policy on immigration.
‘If they changed the laws you wouldn’t have that,” Mr Trump told reporters on the White House lawn.
Shortly afterwards, he tweeted: “The Democrats should change the Loopholes and Asylum Laws so lives will be saved at our Southern Border. They said it was not a crisis at the Border, that it was all just ‘manufactured’. Now they admit that I was right – But they must do something about it. Fix the Laws NOW!”
The image of the bodies in the Rio Grande has prompted outrage across the world and highlighted the plight faced by Central American migrants hoping to claim asylum in the US. Most of those heading to the border are seeking to escape poverty and gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. More recently, there has been an increase in migrants from African and Asian nations.
Mr Ramirez, who was from a neighbourhood of El Salvador’s capital city, San Salvador, crossed the river which separates Mexico and the US, carrying his child, according to Mexican newspaper La Jornada.
The 26-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.
“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 dead man’s mother, told reporters in El Salvador, after speaking to her daughter-in-law, who witnessed the incident, by phone.
“He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”
Mr Trump’s comments came as the US Senate rejected a bill approved a day earlier by the House of Representatives that would have provided $4.5bn (£3.4bn) to address a surge in migration at the US border with Mexico, while setting new standards for the care of migrants taken into custody.
Last month, the US president requested aid for programmes to house, feed, transport and oversee a surge of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the US.
But he had vowed to veto the House legislation. White House officials had said the bill would hamper the Trump administration’s border enforcement efforts.
The Senate was set to move to a separate vote on its own border aid bill after defeating the House measure.
Opponents of the president were quick to blame him for what had transpired.
“Trump is responsible for these deaths,” said Beto O’Rourke, one of the Democrats seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. “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 and death.”
Kamala Harris, another 2020 hopeful, said: “These families are often fleeing extreme violence. And what happens when they arrive? Trump says ‘Go back to where you came from.’ That is inhumane.”
The migrants from Central America are overwhelmingly Catholic. A spokesman for Pope Francis said he had seen the images and was deeply saddened.
“With immense sadness, the Holy Father has seen the images of the father and his baby daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande River while trying to cross the border between Mexico and the United States,” said the Vatican’s Alessandro Gisotti.
“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.”
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