WASHINGTON (AFP) – A shocking photograph of a Salvadoran man and his baby daughter drowned in the Rio Grande fueled a surge of emotion around the world Wednesday – as US Democrats furiously denounced Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
“Trump is responsible for these deaths,” said Beto O’Rourke, one of several Democratic White House hopefuls who took to Twitter to lash out at the president.
Former vice president Joe Biden, who is also seeking the presidency in 2020, called the image “gut-wrenching.”
“History will judge how we respond to the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrant families & children – we can’t be silent,” he said.
Trump retaliated by seeking to pin the blame on Democrats in Congress, saying “if we had the right laws, that the Democrats are not letting us have, those people wouldn’t be coming up, they wouldn’t be trying.
“They want to have open borders and open borders mean crime, and open borders mean people drowning in the rivers,” Trump told reporters.
The intertwined bodies in the viral photo are those of asylum-seeker Oscar Alberto Martinez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria. They drowned Sunday while trying to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas, while the child’s mother watched helplessly from the river bank.
For many, the image evoked memories of a 2015 picture of a Syrian toddler drowned on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to reach Greece.
Speaking to AFP from her home in San Salvador, Oscar’s grief-stricken mother, Rosa Ramirez, said her son dreamed of a better life for his baby daughter.
“They only wanted to get to the United States…. they had this American dream,” she said.
In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also came under fire, accused by critics of putting vulnerable migrants in dangerous situations by making it hard for them to cross the country to request US asylum.
Lopez Obrador came to power in Mexico vowing to safeguard migrants’ rights, but faced with a tariff threat from Trump he agreed to crack down on undocumented Central Americans trekking toward the United States.
He responded by saying he has a “clear conscience.” “We believe it is necessary to maintain good relations with the United States government, to avoid confrontation,” he said.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, another 2020 candidate, described the photo as “horrific.”
“It is just one painful example of so many that demonstrate the reckless disregard for basic humanity that have come from Trump’s policies,” Sanders said.
California Senator Kamala Harris, also running for the White House, called Trump’s immigration policies “inhumane.” “Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience,” she said.
Pope Francis added his voice to the global wave of indignation.
“The Pope is profoundly saddened by their death, and is praying for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery,” said Alessandro Gisotti, a Vatican spokesman.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer displayed the picture on the Senate floor during a speech on Wednesday.
“How could President Trump look at this picture and not understand that these are human beings fleeing violence and persecution?” Schumer asked.
“We can do something about this if the president would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame,” he said.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill on Wednesday providing $4.6 billion in emergency humanitarian aid for the southwest border but it must now be reconciled with a version passed by the Democratic-held House.
Once the differences are worked out the bill will go to Trump for his signature.
The photo comes amid a public outcry in the United States over the poor detention conditions of migrant children following a visit to a Border Patrol center in Clint, Texas, by a group of lawyers and doctors.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a Customs and Border Protection official said that some 100 were being sent back there.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said Wednesday she was “deeply concerned for the wellbeing of migrant children at the US-Mexico border.”
“Having already faced perilous journeys, some children are now being sheltered at facilities that are not equipped to meet the needs of this vulnerable population,” Fore said in a statement.
Border Patrol officials say they are overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees seeking to cross the US border.