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Photo of drowned migrant man, daughter fuels criticism of Trump

Updated June 27, 2019

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The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria lie in the Rio Bravo river in Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state, Mexico June 24, 2019. — Reuters
The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria lie in the Rio Bravo river in Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state, Mexico June 24, 2019. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: A heart-rending photograph of a Salvadoran man and his nearly two-year-old daughter drowned in the Rio Grande River fuelled angry denunciations on Wednesday of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“Trump is responsible for these deaths,” said Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who is 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 & death,” O’Rourke said in a tweet.

According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the intertwined bodies in the photo are those of asylum-seeker Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 26, and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria.

They drowned on Sunday while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas from Mexico, La Jornada said.

For many, the photo evoked memories of a 2015 picture of a Syrian toddler drowned on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to reach Greece.

“These families seeking asylum are often fleeing extreme violence,” said California Senator Kamala Harris, who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

“And what happens when they arrive?” Harris asked on Twitter. “Trump says ‘Go back to where you came from.’ That is inhumane. Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience.”

Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from Michigan who has called for Trump’s impeachment, also had harsh words for the president and his hard-line immigration policies.

“This monster and his heartless Administration must be held accountable,” Tlaib said in a tweet.

The New York Times published the photo on its front page and devoted an editorial to the picture.

“The United States needs an immigration policy that combines border security, justice and humanity,” the Times said.

“No one with a conscience can look at the photo of an asylum seeker and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead on the bank of the Rio Grande and accept the status quo.”

Pope saddened by deaths

Among those who also reacted to the photo was Pope Francis. “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,” said Alessandro Gisotti, a Vatican spokesman.

Joaquin Castro, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Texas, compared the picture to that of the Syrian toddler.

“It’s very hard to see that photograph,” the New York Times quoted Castro as saying. “It’s our version of the Syrian photograph — of the 3-year-old boy on the beach, dead. That’s what it is.” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York displayed the picture on the Senate floor during a speech on Wednesday.

“How could President Trump look at this picture and not understand that these are human beings fleeing violence and persecution?” Schumer asked.

“We can do something about this if the president would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame,” he said.

The photo comes amid a public outcry in the United States over the detention conditions of migrant children following a visit to a Border Patrol centre in Clint, Texas, by a group of lawyers and doctors.

“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” said Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.

Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a Customs and Border Protection official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.

Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centres on Tuesday, said he was “very concerned.” Border Patrol officials have said they are being overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees seeking to cross into the United States.

Enrique Maciel, director of the migrant agency of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, said the family had decided to cross the river after being told they needed to register for a waiting list to apply for asylum at the Matamoros-Brownsville port of entry.

To manage asylum flows, the United States has in recent years implemented a system known as “metering” which puts daily limits on the number of asylum seekers processed at ports of entry, leading to weeks-long waiting lists in dangerous border towns.

That system has contributed to growing numbers of migrants crossing the border illegally to hand themselves into authorities and ask for asylum.

Migrant rights activists say such limits on people’s access to asylum can put them in harm’s way, while driving migration underground and squeezing it into new routes.

Democrat-led House OKs $4.5bn bill for migrants

The US Customs and Border Protection agency said on Tuesday its acting commissioner was resigning, as House of Representatives Democrats passed a $4.5 billion funding package for programmes that house, feed, transport and oversee Central American families seeking asylum.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2019