Sometimes a photograph captures the inhumanity of the world in a way that words never could. Such was the case this week with the searing shot of Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valerie, face down in the muddy Rio Grande, after they had drowned in their determined quest for refuge in the United States.
The photo by Julia Le Duc, first published in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada then distributed around the globe by the Associated Press, was haunting in its detail. The toddler's right arm was curled around his neck. His black T-shirt was wrapped around her to hold her close as they crossed the river.
It was the most universal of human interactions: parent protecting child against danger, and child clinging to her ultimate source of safety. For the child's mother, who watched her loved ones swept away in the current, it was the most unthinkable of horrors.
It should tug at the conscience of all Americans.
The Salvadoran family had wanted to seek asylum the safe way — the legal way, as prescribed in U.S. and international law — by presenting themselves at the port of entry. The international bridge at Matamoros, Mexico, was closed that day. So they took a risk, as so many desperate refugees do, too often with tragic results.
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That heartbreaking sight puts in perspective the U.S. customs policy of "metering" — severely reducing the number of migrants who can request asylum on any given day — and the Trump administration's expressed intent to discourage people fleeing crime and poverty for a better life by complicating their options for legal entry. The 25-year-old Martinez had struggled to support his family on $350 a month working at a Papa John's in El Salvador.
"They went for the American dream," his mother said.
This is not the first time a photo of a child has commanded the world's attention on crisis: there was the lifeless 3-year-old Syrian boy on the beach after the sinking of a refugee boat in 2015; the blood-and-dust-covered Syrian 5-year-old pulled from a building bombed by the Russians the same year; the starving Sudanese girl being eyed by a vulture in 1993.
This one is on us. We can't look the other way. We must challenge the policies that led them to the river.
-- The San Francisco Chronicle