Rio Grande Migrant Deaths: El Salvador President Vows to Bring Home Bodies, Help Family of Father and Daughter Who Drowned at U.S. Border

The Salvadoran government has said it will cover the repatriation costs for the bodies of a man and his daughter who drowned while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexican border.

Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria died in the Rio Grande river while attempting to reach the U.S. on June 23. A photograph of their two bodies clinging together, face down in the river, has sparked fresh outrage over the plight of migrants at the southern frontier. The two are survived by wife and mother Tania Vanessa Avalos, 21.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele confirmed Tuesday that his government would foot the bill to bring Martinez and his daughter back to El Salvador. "Someday we will finish building a country where these things do not happen," Bukele wrote on Twitter.

The president continued, "Someday we will finish building a country where migration is an option and not an obligation. Meanwhile, we will do as much as we can. God help us." Bukele said his government would cover "all repatriation expenses and will help the family financially." La Prensa Gráfica reported that repatriation for both bodies would cost a total of $7,000.

Photographer Julia Le Duc captured the image of dead father and daughter. Le Duc told Associated Press that the family were unable to claim asylum at the southern border legally.

Instead, they sought to swim across the Rio Grande near the town of Matamoros and illegally enter the U.S. Le Duc explained that Martinez had first swum across the river with Valeria, putting her down on the bank before returning to help his wife cross.

But seeing her father leave, Valeria panicked and threw herself after him into the water. Though Martinez was able to grab her, the current swept them both away. Their bodies were found later just over a mile downstream, and just half a mile from a border crossing bridge.

The White House is yet to comment on the outrage surrounding the most recent deaths. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, however, called the incident "very regrettable." He noted that Mexican authorities "have always denounced that as there is more rejection in the United States, there are people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing" the river.

The photograph has brought into sharp focus the dangers facing desperate migrants and asylum seekers at the southern border. Some reports have compared it to the infamous image of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy pictured dead on a beach in Turkey after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.

A total of 283 migrant deaths were recorded along the border last year, the AP noted. The running total for 2019 has not yet been released.

New rules introduced by the Trump administration mean asylum seekers have to wait in Mexico—rather than the U.S.—for their claims to be evaluated. Thousands remain stranded in Mexican border towns, facing long waits in areas already struggling to support the newcomers. Many instead choose to cross the border illegally.

migrant, border, drowns, El Salvador, Mexico
View of the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico on June 24, 2019. Getty/STR/AFP