The bodies of Oscar Alberto Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, lie face down in murky waters littered with reeds and discarded beer bottles. Their heads are wrapped in a black T-shirt, and her tiny right arm is draped over his shoulders.
The shocking image captured Monday was a grim reminder of the dangerous journey migrants take to get to the United States.
The pair from El Salvador drowned Sunday in the Rio Grande as they were crossing from Mexico into Texas near Brownsville. They actually had made it to the Texas side initially, and Martinez placed his child there before turning around to get his wife, a journalist says.
But when Angie Valeria saw her father swimming away, she jumped in after him, according to Julia Le Duc, the photographer who captured the image of the pair.
The father clung to the little girl in red pants and black shoes, but a strong current swept over and drowned them, Le Duc wrote for Mexican newspaper La Jornada.
The newspaper talked to the man’s widow, Tania, who said she saw her husband and child carried away Sunday. Their bodies were found Monday on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, near Matamoros, across the river from Brownsville.
They were waiting for asylum
The haunting image offers a glimpse into the suffering asylum seekers face on the US-Mexico border.
The family had been in a migrant camp in Matamoros since Sunday, hoping for an appointment to receive political asylum from the US, the newspaper said, citing Martinez’s wife.
They’d been in Mexico for two months in the scorching heat — temperatures climbed to 113 degrees Fahrenheit at times — and the family decided to cross the river out of desperation, La Jornada reported. The victim’s wife said they had obtained a humanitarian visa from the Mexican government.
On Tuesday, Martínez’s mother, Rosa Ramírez wept outside her home in San Martin, El Salvador, where she met with reporters and talked about her family. Holding what she said were some of Angie Valeria’s toys — a purple stuffed monkey and a baby doll — she said her son died while trying to save his daughter’s life.
Ports of entry along the border have long been overwhelmed by the surging asylum claims, Customs and Border Protection officials have said.
But US policies that make it harder for those seeking asylum to turn themselves in at ports of entry are pushing more migrants to take deadly risks and cross in more dangerous areas, advocates have said, warning the number of deaths at the border will increase.
Turnbacks and long waits also often push asylum seekers into crossing the border illegally, according to a September report by the Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.
This new image is reminiscent of the iconic 2015 photo of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey. The photo shocked and moved UN and European leaders and stirred discussion over immigration policies.
Salvadoran officials warn residents
The two deaths promoted Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandra Hill to beg citizens to stay in the country and work with the government as it tries to resolve the economic issues that push so many to leave.
“Our country is in mourning, again,” she said. “I beg you, to all the families, parents, don’t risk it. Life is worth a lot more.”
Hill said the government is working with Mexican authorities to repatriate the remains.
El Salvador’s newly elected President Nayib Bukele said the government would help the family financially.
Reactions from presidential candidates
As news of the image spread, presidential candidates blamed the deaths on the administration.
Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris called 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 said “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,” he said on Twitter.