Home / World News / Father, daughter drown on US-Mexico border: Story revealed

Father, daughter drown on US-Mexico border: Story revealed

A confronting and heartbreaking image of a young girl clinging to her father on the banks of the river that divides the US and Mexico is being shared around the world.

The story behind it is tragically common.

The journalist who took that photograph was Julia Le Duc. It was published in the Mexican newspaper La Jordana where the deceased were named as Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and his daughter, Valeria.

Valeria was just one year and 11 months when on Sunday afternoon she and her father were washed away by fast-flowing currents down a section of the 3000km Rio Grande.

The toddler was found with her head tucked inside her father’s T-shirt and an arm around his neck.

La Jordana reports the family had travelled from El Salvador through Guatemala. They were fleeing violence that has gripped the region when they entered Mexico, secured a humanitarian visa and tried to apply for asylum in the United States.

On Sunday, two months after entering Mexico, they arrived at a migrant centre to make the formal request for political asylum. But La Jordana reports the office was closed for the weekend.

Mr Martinez decided to try his luck crossing the river at Matamoros, not far from the Mexican east coast.

His wife, named as Tania Vanessa Avalos, stood at the edge of the river and watched as her husband made the short swim across.

Mr Martinez made it to the US side safely where he sat Valeria down on the riverbank. As he started back for his wife, the couple’s daughter panicked and threw herself into the water.

The pair were dragged away before an exhaustive 12-hour search ended in the discovery of two bodies.

The Salvadoran embassy has offered to pay for the repatriation of the bodies, La Jordana reports.

The reporter who captured the image that has since been seen around the world told The Associated Press police arrived at the scene “amid tears” and “screams”.

media_cameraTania Vanessa Avalos lost her husband and daughter on Sunday. Picture: Julia Le Duc/AP
media_cameraThe bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his young daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. Picture: Julia Le Duc/AP

Mr Martinez’s mother back in El Salvador, Rosa Ramirez, spoke with her daughter-in-law by phone 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,” Ms Ramirez told AP.

“He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”

Ms Ramirez said her son and his family left El Salvador on April 3 and spent about two months at a shelter in Tapachula, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

“I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home,” Ms Ramirez said. “They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house.”

The deaths are a wake-up call to an issue that has been bubbling away for some time. In recent weeks, three babies and a woman were found dead trying to make the crossing from Central America to safety in the US.

AP reports 283 migrant deaths were recorded last year, but the death toll for 2019 has not been made public.

media_cameraA US Border Patrol boat navigates the Rio Grande searching for the missing father and daughter. Picture: Julia Le Duc/AP

The Rio Grande has taken its share of casualties. In April, a family of four — including three children — drowned when their raft capsized on the river.

The humanitarian disaster unfolding at entry points into Texas is as bad as it’s ever been. The New York Times last week reported on “a chaotic scene of sickness and filth” at overcrowded border crossings where those waiting and hoping for a new start have gone months without showering.

“Children as young as seven and eight, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants,” the Times reported.

“Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk. Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.”

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador responded to questions about the image of the father and his young daughter on the banks of the Rio Grande.

“Very regrettable that this would happen,” he said.

Originally published as Tragic story behind distressing image

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