The Associated Press has published a photo of the dead bodies of El Salvadoran father and asylum seeker Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 2-year-old daughter, washed up on the banks of the Rio Grande river. The graphic image, captured by photojournalist Julia Le Duc, shows the soaked and lifeless Ramirez face down in the brown river. His daughter is pressed close beside him, tucked in his shirt, her arm still wrapped around her father’s neck, her face hidden from the camera in the mud of the riverbank. It is an indelible, tragic and horrifying image and it’s unlikely to change anything.
The surviving family members who watched the pair get swept away offered a tragic tale of their journey. On their way to try and build a home in America, the family had spent two months in a migrant camp on the border of Guatemala before finally reaching a U.S. Consulate on the U.S.-Mexico border to request asylum. When they were unable to present themselves to U.S. officials Ramirez decided to try the river.
As a father, I can only imagine the terrible desperation and unyielding hope that could possibly drive me to put my family in danger with such a perilous crossing. I do not imagine it was a task that Ramirez took lightly or incautiously.
But I am primed to think this way. I sympathize with the plight of those fleeing violence and poverty, huddled at our border and hoping to find a better life. I understand that as Customs and Border Protection use a “metering” policy to slow the asylum declaration process to a crawl, those in the camps in Mexican border towns are becoming more and more desperate.
I know there are others like me whose hearts will be filled with rage and sorrow at this image. But I also know that there are others, hardened by political rhetoric, who will not see the bodies of Ramirez and his daughter as an indictment of American immigration policy. Some will struggle to see them as human beings. Others will blame the father. And many, many more will simply be so inured to the constant stream of tragedy on 24-hour news networks that they will simply refuse to look, or upon looking will be unmoved.
The bleak fact is that our politics are so broken that an image of a drowned 2-year-old girl still clinging to her dead father, will likely not sway anyone. We are deadlocked, morally and ideologically. And as we cling to partisanship more will die. It’s that simple.