‘Trump is responsible’: Democrats, celebrities and activists react to photo of drowned father and toddler

‘That is inhumane. Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience,’ says Kamala Harris

Zamira Rahim
Wednesday 26 June 2019 16:03 BST
The bodies of a man and his one-year-old daughter on the bank of the Rio Grande
The bodies of a man and his one-year-old daughter on the bank of the Rio Grande (AP)

Democratic presidential hopefuls, activists, celebrities and Mexican politicians were among those who responded with horror to a widely shared photograph of a drowned El Salvadorean man and his 23-month-old daughter.

The bodies of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria were found face down in the Rio Grande, which lies along part of the US-Mexico border.

The toddler was found tucked into her father’s t-shirt. Her arm was draped across his neck, suggesting that she was clutching him in her final moments.

Julia Le Duc, a journalist, took the photograph. It was later published in La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper.

The deaths prompted furious reactions from some politicians, who blamed the Trump administration for the humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border.

Many openly linked the White House’s anti-immigration policies to the tragedy.

“Trump is responsible for these deaths,” said Beto O’Rourke, who is campaigning for the 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 & death. At the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety.”

Kamala Harris, a California senator also running for the nomination, struck a similar tone.

“These families are often fleeing extreme violence,” she said on Twitter.

“And what happens when they arrive? Trump says ‘Go back to where you came from.’ That is inhumane.

“Children are dying,” she added."This is a stain on our moral conscience.”

Cory Booker, senator for New Jersey, said: "We should not look away. These are the consequences of Donald Trump’s inhumane and immoral immigration policy. This is being done in our name.

“There’s nothing criminal about seeking a better life for your family.”

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the prime minister of Mexico, said the incident was “very regrettable”.

Mexico has come under pressure from the US in recent months to reduce the number of people crossing the border.

“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],” Mr Obrador said.

The White House is yet to comment on the Rio Grande tragedy.

Many Central Americans have fled their home countries after a surge in violence and poverty in the region, prompting Mr Trump to declare an emergency at the border.

Some groups, like Ramirez and his family, hope to seek asylum in the US.

The migrants retain the right to present themselves at the border and request asylum, but the Trump administration’s “metering” policy has drastically reduced the number of applications heard each day from dozens to just a handful at some ports of entry.

Asylum applications can take months to process. A Mexican official said Mr Ramirez and his family had visited the US consulate in the city of Matamoros on Sunday.

It is unclear what occurred in the consulate but the family decided to try and cross the Rio Grande later the same day.

Other Democrats commenting on the deaths included Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan congresswoman who entered the Capitol in January.

“This monster and his heartless administration must be held accountable,” she said, referring to Mr Trump.

Mexican newspapers 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.

The 2015 image helped to bring worldwide attention to the refugee crisis in Europe.

It remains to be seen if the Rio Grande deaths will have a similar impact but awareness of the image has spread beyond Washington, with celebrities and activists among those sharing it online.

Several urged social media users not to “look away” from the graphic photograph.

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“To those who say, ‘well, they shouldn’t have come here illegally’— why does this idea of an arbitrary line matter so much to you that you don’t care if people are dying when they cross said arbitrary line?!?!” Alyssa Milano, an actress, said.

Bradley Whitford, an actor best known for his role in The West Wing, shared the image of Mr Ramirez and Valeria in a post on his Twitter account.

He captioned it with a quote from the New Colossus, a sonnet about immigrants. The poem is mounted on the Statue of Liberty, which has historically served as a symbol of welcome for migrant communities arriving in the US.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Mr Whitford wrote.

“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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