We Shouldn’t Be Surprised By the Drowning Deaths of a Father and Daughter in the Rio Grande
Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, drowned to death this week while crossing the Rio Grande river in an attempt to reach the U.S. shore and ask for asylum. After they were discovered on Monday, a photograph of their lifeless bodies went viral. In the photo, Óscar and Valeria appear facedown in the turbid water; Valeria’s little arm is clung around her father’s neck and both of their legs are floating out behind them. Their unsettled stillness calls to mind the power of an image to impact a policy debate, much like how in 2015 the photograph of the drowned Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi convinced a number of European Union nations to rethink their refugee policies (though ultimately the EU foisted more responsibility onto Turkey). Also like Kurdi’s photograph, the image of Óscar and Valeria brings home the impact of the moral failings of our immigration policy. But if we want to avoid such terrible deaths in the future, a few days of outrage isn’t enough.
The U.S. government counted 283 deaths along the border just last year; many other human remains were left unrecovered and not included in the total. The deaths of Óscar and Valeria — and the hundreds of others like them — is on us, the American public. U.S. policymakers and the voters who send them into office are responsible for writing and implementing policy that knowingly and deliberately imperils migrant lives.
By failing to uphold both domestic and international asylum and refugee laws, U.S. immigration policy drives migrants to make deadly desert treks and dangerous river crossings, and is responsible for unquantifiable suffering. U.S. foreign policy — the violent interventionism of the cold war in Central America — and the ongoing neoliberal exploitation of Central America, as well as the exportation of the U.S. Drug War — has not only destabilized an entire region, but has prompted millions to flee their homes in search of life and dignity.