President Trump’s increasingly hardline immigration agenda is to blame for the deaths of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 2-year-old daughter, Valeria.
Much of the world has now seen the horrifying photo of Oscar and Valeria lying dead, facedown on the south bank of the Rio Grande, the toddler’s water-soaked diaper peeking out from her red shorts.
Authorities say the Salvadoran refugees were swept away as they tried to cross the murky river at the Texas-Mexico border on Sunday. Their bodies were found the following day a quarter-mile downstream.
Oscar and his family had traveled by bus to Matamoros, which borders Brownsville, Texas, to seek asylum in the United States, according to Julia Le Duc, a reporter for La Jornada newspaper in Mexico. Le Duc said the couple had been in Mexico for about two months, having been granted a humanitarian visa by the Mexican government.
When the family arrived at the border, they learned it could be weeks or months before U.S. customs officials would grant them an asylum interview. Oscar decided the family should take their chances and cross undocumented. It would be a fateful and fatal decision.
Oscar’s wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, told Le Duc she watched helplessly from the shore as the river’s undercurrent dragged her husband and daughter away.
Le Duc took the photograph of Oscar and Valeria that went viral on Wednesday. It shows Valeria’s body tucked inside of her father’s T-shirt, her tiny, water soaked arm still draped around his neck. Oscar, who was just 25, had apparently harnessed his daughter to his body to try to save her.
Trump, of course, wasn’t in Matamoros when Oscar and Valeria died on Sunday. But it was Trump’s order forcing refugees arriving at the border to wait in Mexico that triggered the chain of events that led to Oscar’s tragic decision to risk crossing the river that day.
The policy, which is being challenged in federal court as unconstitutional, is part of a string of detestable immigration-related directives by the president meant to punish rather than assist the hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants who have arrived at our southern border in recent months.
If Lady Liberty beckons the world to give us its tired, poor and huddled masses “yearning to breathe free…,” Trump’s dark clarion call is more like, “If you’re black or brown, stay the hell out of my country, because if my people catch you I’ll deport your ass. Now, go back to your shit-hole country!”
Trump isn’t the first president to impose harsh immigration policies meant to strike fear in immigrants and deter them from coming here. President Bill Clinton’s decision in the 1990s to blockade the border around El Paso and San Diego funneled hundreds of thousands of mostly Mexican immigrants into Arizona, leading to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of undocumented immigrants in the past two decades.
In the wake of 9-11, President George W. Bush and a compliant Congress created the Department of Homeland Security that ballooned the budget for immigration and customs enforcement, adding thousands more agents to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. The stepped-up border enforcement measures of the Bush era were justified as a means to protect Americans from international terrorism, even though none of the 9-11 attackers had entered the U.S. across our southern border.
President Barack Obama oversaw a record number of deportations from the U.S. and the separation of countless immigrant famillies over his two terms as president, though he managed to impose a measure granting temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant youth, known as Dreamers, and tried but failed to do the same for their parents.
Yet as ill-conceived and ineffective as their immigration policies were, at least Trump’s predecessors had the decency not to pound their chests and crow like sadistic executioners as they implemented their policies.
Despite his boast in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump probably couldn’t get away with shooting somebody “on Fifth Avenue” and “still not lose any votes.” But he certainly isn’t flinching from letting people die as the result of an immigration agenda driven by his desire to win a second term as president.
Maybe it’s time Trump updated his claim to say, “I could drown someone on the U.S.-Mexico border and still not lose any votes.”