WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to blame current immigration laws – and Democrats’ refusal to change them – for the drowning death of a father and his young daughter as they tried to cross the Rio Grande river to get into the United States.
Photographs of the two migrants, lying face down near the bank of the river, has sparked new outrage and controversy over the current border crisis.
Asked about the images, Trump suggested that if Congress fixed the laws, as he had demanded, such incidents would not happen.
“People are running through the Rio Grande,” he told reporters on the White House South Lawn before leaving for Japan. If “we had the right laws … people won’t come up and people won’t get killed.” He said Democrats were blocking those legal changes.
The searing photograph, taken by journalist Julia Le Duc, shows Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria deceased and face down on a muddy riverbank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, after trying to cross to the U.S. side of the river.
He was apparently referencing his demands that Congress change asylum and other immigration laws that he says create an incentive for immigrants to bring children with them on an often perilous journey from Central America and other countries to reach the U.S.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday that she hoped the pictures of two migrants would help change the Trump administration’s stance on immigration.
“This is a manifestation of behavior that is outside the circle of civilized human behavior,” Pelosi told the Associated Press. She said the U.S. is ignoring its “obligations to humanity,” and she hoped that the images will show that “something could be done that is better.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said that the pair were “dead because of Trump’s cruel policies.”
Le Duc’s reporting for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada said that Ramírez and his daughter drowned after being unable to present himself to U.S. authorities in an effort to request asylum. He and his daughter had been swept away by the current of Rio Grande after being turned away.
USA TODAY has not been able to independently confirm the account, though details of the incident were confirmed to the Associated Press on Tuesday by a Tamaulipas, Mexico, government official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. It also was confirmed by Martínez’s mother in El Salvador, Rosa Ramírez, who spoke with her daughter-in-law by phone afterward. Le Duc told the AP that the account was based on remarks by Tania Vanessa Ávalos, Ramírez’s wife, to police at the scene.
“When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further … and he couldn’t get out,” Ramírez told the AP. “He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”
Contributing: The Associated Press; Mike James, USA TODAY
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