Rosa Ramirez sobs as she shows journalists toys that belonged to her nearly 2-year-old granddaughter Valeria in her home in San Martin, El Salvador, Tuesday, June 25, 2019.
Rosa Ramirez sobs as she shows journalists toys that belonged to her nearly 2-year-old granddaughter Valeria in her home in San Martin, El Salvador, Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

A father and daughter from El Salvador were found dead Monday after they tried to cross the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the United States.

A photo of their bodies published first by the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, has become widely circulated by news organizations and on social media, boosting attention on the circumstances of migrants who face long wait times for adjudication of asylum cases at the border.

It also sparked debate about whether it is appropriate to share such sensitive images.

According to reports from La Jornada and the Associated Press, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez was frustrated and tired of waiting for an opportunity to request U.S. asylum and made the decision Sunday night to try to cross the river with his wife and daughter.

Ramirez was able to get the 23-month-old girl to the other side of the river, but when he went back across to help his wife, the girl went into the water. He tried to save her but both were swept away by the river's strong currents.

A worker enters the migrant shelter where Tania Vanessa Avalos has been receiving assistance since her husband and their daughter drowned Sunday when the family tried to cross the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, June 26, 2019.

The photo elicited expressions of outrage and empathy as well as political sniping. 

U.S. President Donald Trump said of the image: "I hate it," but quickly blamed the Democrats for not changing the immigration policy that he says encourages migrants.  

Politicians react

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer turned the tables on Trump.

"How could President Trump look at this picture and not understand that these are human beings fleeing violence and persecution, willing to risk a perilous, sometimes failed journey in search of a better life,'' the Democrat from New York said on the Senate floor. "If our ports of entry were adequately staffed, we had enough asylum judges and our asylum laws respected, they might not have perished.''

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said on Facebook: "This is horrific. Trump's policy of making it harder and harder to seek asylum, and separating families who do, is cruel, inhumane and leads to tragedies like this. We must stop the deaths. We must restore humanity to our immigration system.'' 

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said he hoped the photo would propel Congress to act. "I hope that picture alone will catalyze this Congress, this Senate, this committee to do something,'' Johnson said. "It is well past time. And that picture that all Americans woke up this morning looking at, again should be used as a catalyst for that kind of action.''

Asked if the image would spur change, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck a skeptical tone. "I would hope so, but we've had many challenges to conscience which haven't. But let's hope that this just tips the scale,'' she said.

Warning to migrants

In El Salvador, Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill said the government was working to help the Ramirez family, and she cautioned other migrants to not risk their lives as they travel.

Mexican authorities walk along the Rio Grande bank where the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria were found, in Matamoros, Mexico, June 24, 2019.

U.S. authorities reported 283 migrant deaths last year.

U.S. Border Patrol said Tuesday its agents had rescued a father and small child from Honduras who were struggling in the same river farther to the west.

Guatemala's government also confirmed Tuesday that a mother and three children found dead in southern Texas from dehydration and exposure to high temperatures after also crossing the Rio Grande are Guatemalan nationals.

Trump's administration is trying to reduce the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border, many of them from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, including discussing with Guatemala an agreement that would require migrants to apply for asylum there instead of traveling on to the United States.

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