Don't Look Away

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This is a picture of a man and his 23-month-old daughter, drowned on the bank of the Rio Grande.

The Associated Press published the picture on Tuesday; it said that it had first run in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. La Jornada identified the man as Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his daughter as Valeria.

From the AP:

According to Le Duc’s reporting for La Jornada, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador were unable to present themselves to U.S. authorities and request asylum, swam across the river with his daughter, Valeria.

He set her on the U.S. bank of the river and started back for his wife, Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away. The account was based on remarks by Ávalos to police at the scene.

Their bodies were discovered Monday morning on the bank of the river near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, and several hundred yards (meters) from where they had tried to cross, just a half-mile (1 kilometer) from an international bridge.


U.S. policy has drastically reduced the number of migrants who are allowed to request asylum, down from dozens per day previously to sometimes just a handful at some ports of entry.

The United States has also been expanding its program under which asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in U.S. courts, a wait that could last many months or even years.


This is what happens in a system defined almost entirely by cruelty, neglect, and racism. A family making a desperate, treacherous journey in search of something better for themselves runs into a series of roadblocks set up by people whose only mission is to crush their hopes, reject their humanity, and turn them away. They are left to die, and many of them do.

There will surely be people who place the blame on this father and his family, who will say that this is what happens when you put yourself in such danger. Those people are wrong. This is what happens when a society chooses to cast aside all basic human decency and any feeling of solidarity with the plight of other people, and tosses them to the wolves.

There will also be people who say this is the evidence of a “broken system,” one that is in dire need of reform. Those people are also wrong. This is the American immigration system doing exactly what it has been set up to do, and it is not in need of reform—it is in need of abolition.

When a mother and three children are dying from dehydration in the desert; when babies are being shoved into concentration camps and treated like animals; when a 23-month-old little girl drowns in the river because this country would not open its arms to her—it is all the evidence anyone should need that this system is diseased to its core, and that it must be torn down to its foundations and replaced with something better.


In the meantime, don’t look away. Look at this picture, and remember that the forces that sent Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter to their deaths are operating in your name.