You may not want to even look at, let alone linger on, the photo that accompanies this editorial, but you must. It shows the bodies of a Salvadoran migrant and his toddler daughter who drowned this week while attempting to cross the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas.
The crisis at the southern border has not been an abstraction, exactly, but it has been indirect enough for some U.S. citizens — if they wish, with a cool remove — to see the migrants fleeing violence in Central America as intruders who wish to exploit our country’s goodwill.
But look again. These were real people, and this was their fate.
Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez had arrived with his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, and their daughter, Valeria, on Sunday in Matamoros, the Mexican city across the river from Brownsville, hoping to request asylum from U.S. authorities. Julia Le Duc, the Matamoros journalist who took this photo and others after the bodies were found on Monday, told the Guardian newspaper that when Martínez realized that it could be weeks before the asylum process began, he decided the family should swim across. (Ávalos, who had not yet entered the water, watched her husband and 23-month-old daughter swept away. Le Duc witnessed Ávalos’ account to the police.)
“I’ve been a police reporter for many years, and I’ve seen a lot of bodies — and a lot of drownings,” Le Duc told the Guardian. “The Río Bravo [Rio Grande] is a very strong river: you think it’s just shallow, but there are lots of currents and whirlpools. You get numb to it, but when you see something like this it re-sensitizes you. You could see that the father had put her inside his T-shirt so the current wouldn’t pull her away.”
These photos immediately recalled similar ones from 2015 showing the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy being retrieved from the water off a Greek island. The horror of reality at that time galvanized attention on the refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to escape the Islamic State, but “it remains to be seen,” the Guardian wrote, if this week’s tragedy “will have the same impact on America’s fierce immigration debate.”
It’s true — nothing about this is easy. But please, fellow Americans, persuade our leaders to make the cynical view wrong.