Image of Father-Daughter Drowning Calls Attention to Migrants’ Risks

26 June, 2019

The bodies of a man and his 2-year-old daughter lay face down in the water along the bank of the Rio Grande, the river that runs between Mexico and the United States.

The young girl's body is inside her father's shirt; one of her arms falls around his neck. The position of their bodies suggests that the two held on to each other as they drowned.

The image of the father and daughter has called attention to the risks Central American migrants face while fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the United States.

Reporter Julia Le Duc took the picture. It was first published in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada and has since been seen around the world.

Le Duc said the people in the image were Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Valeria. The two were from El Salvador.

In this Sunday, June 23, 2019 photo, Tania Vanessa <I>&#</i>193;valos of El Salvador speaks with Mexican authorities after her husband and nearly two-year-old daughter were swept away by the current in Matamoros, Mexico, while trying to cross the Rio Grande.
In this Sunday, June 23, 2019 photo, Tania Vanessa &#193;valos of El Salvador speaks with Mexican authorities after her husband and nearly two-year-old daughter were swept away by the current in Matamoros, Mexico, while trying to cross the Rio Grande.

Le Duc reported that Ramirez had tried to cross the river along the U.S-Mexico border Sunday. He did so after he was unable to present his family to U.S. officials and request asylum.

Ramirez first swam across with his daughter and set her on the U.S. side of the river. As he started to return for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, the daughter threw herself back into the water to try to reach her father. Ramirez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but a strong current swept them both away.

Le Duc said her reporting was based on what Ávalos told police at the scene.

Ramirez's mother back in El Salvador, Rosa Ramírez, spoke with her daughter-in-law by phone after the incident. She told the Associated Press, "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." The story was also confirmed Tuesday by a state government official in Mexico.

The search for Ramírez and his daughter was suspended Sunday evening. Their bodies were discovered the next morning near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas. They were several hundred meters from where they had tried to cross and just one kilometer away from an international bridge connecting the two countries.

From the extremely hot Sonoran Desert to the fast-moving Rio Grande River, the U.S.-Mexico border has long been a deadly crossing. Last year, 283 migrants died trying to cross the border.

In recent weeks, two babies, a small child and a woman were found dead in the heat. In April, three children and an adult from Honduras died after their small boat overturned on the Rio Grande.

Leaving El Salvador

Rosa Ramírez said her son and his family left El Salvador on April 3. "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."

Mexican officials said the family arrived in Matamoros early Sunday and went to the U.S. Consulate to try to get a date to request asylum. But the waits are long at the consulate as well as at the border. Last week, a shelter director said the U.S. only holds about 40 to 45 asylum interviews in Matamoros each week. There is a waiting list of about 1,000 names.

Later that day, the family made the decision to swim across the river.

Le Duc said as she described the scene, "I was drawn to the girl's arm on her father. It was something that moved me in the extreme because it reflects that until her last breath, she was joined to him not only by the shirt but also in that embrace in which they passed together into death."

Maureen Meyer is with the human rights organization Washington Office on Latin America. She said of the image, "It speaks so clearly to the real risks of these U.S. programs that are either returning people back to Mexico seeking asylum or in this case limiting how many people can enter the U.S. every day."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Peter Orsi and Amy Guthrie reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

grab - v. to quickly take a hold of someone with your hand

sweep - v. to push or carry someone with great force

scene - n. the place of an event or incident

beg - v. to ask someone in a very serious and emotional way

scrape - v. to collect or gather something needed or wanted with great effort

draw - v. to cause someone to to become interested in something

reflect - v. to show something

embrace - n. the act of holding someone in your arms