The photo, which was originally published on Monday by the Mexican newspaper La Jornada and went viral on social media, shows a migrant and his less than 2-year-old daughter lying face down in the dirty waters on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. The girl’s right arm rests across the back of her father’s neck.
The image encapsulated the harsh reality of the border amid the growing desperation of migrants fleeing poverty and crime in Central America and elsewhere who are willing to face great dangers — at times with children — for a shot at a better life in the United States.
The man in the photo, 25-year-old Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, left El Salvador on April 3 with his 21-year-old wife, Tania Vanessa Avalos, and their toddler, Valeria, according to accounts from relatives reported by several media outlets. The family fled to seek economic opportunity and safety, the relatives stated.
The couple first requested asylum in southern Mexico, but later chose to try to reach the U.S. When they arrived at the U.S. border over the weekend, relatives said, they were told that they could not cross — because of the Trump administration’s policy of “metering,” which allows only a few dozen migrants to seek asylum at official crossings each day.
According to Le Duc’s reporting for La Jornada, the family, frustrated, decided to swim across the river separating the U.S. and Mexico on Sunday and turn themselves into border authorities.
Martinez swam across with Valeria first and set her down safely on the U.S. side. As he began to cross back for his wife, the girl panicked and threw herself into the river. Martinez tried to rescue his daughter and managed to grab her, but they drowned.
Their bodies were discovered on Monday morning near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, less than a mile from an international border bridge.
Hundreds of migrants die while seeking to reach the U.S. each year. They drown in the swift-running Rio Grande, perish in the sweltering Sonoran Desert or suffocate in the back of tractor-trailers driven by migrant smugglers. Most of those deaths go largely ignored in the United States.
But Le Duc’s photo went viral and was published on the front page of the New York Times on Wednesday, with some saying it points to more inhumane U.S. migration policies.