Things That Matter

Say Their Names: This Father-Daughter Pair Were Found Dead, Washed Up On Banks Of Rio Grande After Attempting To Swim Across

Just hours after news broke that a woman and three children were found dead at the US-Mexico border, we have confirmation of two more deaths.

This time it’s a father-daughter pair who died a horrific death trying to find a better life in the United States.

Across social media, horrific pictures are circulating showing the victims’ lifeless bodies drowned in the Rio Grande.

Heartbreaking images reveal the tragedy of a father who drowned with his 23-month-old daughter as he went back to try and save her in the Rio Grande while her mother watched on.

Credit: @dailymailuk / Twitter

Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his daughter Valeria were found face down in shallow water on the Mexico side of the river across from Brownsville, Texas on Monday morning.

Their deaths are the latest in a string of migrant deaths at the US-Mexico border.

Just yesterday, the bodies of four undocumented people, one 20-year-old woman, two infants, and a toddler, were found near the Rio Grande.

The father had successfully taken his daughter to the US side of the border but the little girl followed her father back as he returned for the mother.

Credit: @nytimes / Twitter

After waiting desperately for two months in a migrant camp Ramírez crossed the lethal currents near Matamoros first with his child before returning to other the side for his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21.

But their youngster, misunderstanding why she had been left on the other side got back into the water and Ramírez fatefully went in to save her.

Ávalos could only watch in horror as her husband and daughter were swept a few hundred yards downstream to their deaths.

Credit: @CBSNews / Twitter

Photos from the scene show his black shirt hiked up to his chest with the girl’s head tucked inside. Her arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments. 

The family had been waiting nearly two months in an overcrowded migrant camp before finally deciding to make the dangerous crossing.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

Ávalos said the family left El Salvador on April 3 and that they spent the last two months in Mexico at a migrant camp waiting for an appointment to apply for asylum to enter the U.S.

A Tamaulipas government official said the family arrived in Matamoros early Sunday and went to the U.S. Consulate to try to get a date to request asylum. 

It’s not clear what happened to the family at the U.S. Consulate, but a shelter director said only about 40 to 45 asylum interviews were being conducted in Matamoros each week, while somewhere in the neighborhood of 800-1,700 names were on a waiting list.

Twitter lit up with reaction to both the devastating photo and the story behind it.

Credit: @nytimes / Twitter

The devastating news and shocking photo have generated tons of comments on Twitter.

Many are frustrated by the government’s inability to take action to help migrants.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

The issue of migrant deaths shouldn’t be fought along party lines. Each and every member of government should be able to agree that steps need to be taken, first and foremost, to stop people from dying.

While many on Twitter were outraged at the comments from people completely lacking empathy and compassion for the lives lost.

Credit: @nytimes / Twitter

Sadly, there are still way too many comments on Twitter from people who say migrants shouldn’t risk the journey and that they’d survive. Too many people still don’t get it.

From the scorching Sonora desert to the fast-moving Rio Grande, the US-Mexico border has long been a deadly journey for migrants trying to cross into the US.

Credit: @fams2gether / Twitter

In recent weeks alone, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead on Sunday, overcome by the sweltering heat. 

Elsewhere three children and an adult from Honduras died in April after their raft capsized on the Rio Grande, and a 6-year-old from India was found dead earlier this month in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar well above 100 degrees.

‘Very regrettable that this would happen,’ Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday in response to a question about the photograph. 

‘We 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,” he added.

The tragic deaths come amid reports of squalid conditions and overcrowding at migrant shelters.

Credit: @realDonaldTrump / Twitter

“The kids had colds and were sick and said they didn’t have access to soap to wash their hands. It was an alcohol-based cleanser,” Clara Long, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch said to CNN. “Some kids who were detained for 2-3 weeks had only one or two opportunities to shower. One said they hadn’t showered in three weeks. Hygiene and living conditions like this creates a risk of spreading infectious disease. It makes me very concerned about the public health emergency.”

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With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

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With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

Damen Wood / Getty Images

Becoming a U.S. resident or citizen has never been an easy process. The country’s immigration system is a convoluted mess that sharply leans in favor of high-wealth individuals and under the Trump administration that is becoming more apparent than ever.

But 2020 has been an especially challenging year for immigrants seeking to complete their citizenship process.

Although it’s common for interest in naturalization to spike in the months leading up to presidential elections, the Coronavirus pandemic forced the citizenship process to a grinding halt in March. The outbreak shut offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) all across the country. And although many of these offices reopened in July, there is a widening backlog of applications.

Meanwhile, on October 2, looming fee increases could leave applications and citizenship out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants, as the process becomes significantly more costly.

Many migrant advocacy groups are hosting events meant to help immigrants complete their applications before prices are set to rise.

In South Florida, the Office of New Americans (ONA) — a public-private partnership between Miami-Dade County and non-profit legal service providers — launched its second Miami Citizenship Week on Sept. 11. This 10-day event is designed to help immigrants with free legal support so participants can beat the October 2 deadline.

In addition, the event will host a mix of celebrations meant to highlight the social and economic contributions of South Florida’s large immigrant communities.

“I think in Miami we talk about how we are diverse and how we are adjacent to Latin America, but we never take a moment to celebrate immigrants and the amazing work that they do whether it’s the nurses in our hospitals, the drivers that drive our buses, small business owners,” said Krystina François, ONA’s executive director. “We need to reclaim the narrative around immigrants and around our communities because it’s what makes us great.”

However, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, the events will all be hosted online.

Much like any other event, Covid-19 has greatly impacted this year’s “Citizenship Week.” Therefore, the event will be hosted virtually. That includes the Mega Citizenship Clinic, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16-20. At the event, pro-bono lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Americans for Immigrant Justice and other groups will connect with attendees one-on-one on Zoom and walk them through the process of filling out the 20-page citizenship application form. 

The clinic is open to immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens, meaning permanent residents who have had a green card for at least five years.

Cities like Dallas are also getting in on similar events, meant to welcome new residents and citizens into the city.

Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs is hosting a series of virtual events from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20 in honor of Welcoming Week. The virtual events aim to promote Dallas’ diverse communities and to unite all residents, including immigrants and refugees.

According to the City of Dallas, this year’s theme is Creating Home Together, and it emphasizes the importance of coming together as a community to build a more inclusive city for everyone.

Participants will be able to learn about the voting process and what will be on the next ballot during the “Vontando Por Mi Familia: Enterate para que vas a votar” event. The event, hosted in partnership with Mi Familia, will be presented in Spanish.

A Council Member, Jaime Resendez, will host a virtual program on Tuesday at 11 a.m. that celebrates Latinx art and culture. The event will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Mayor Eric Johnson will read the Welcoming Week Proclamation, and the event will feature art exhibitions and performances showcasing the talents of performers and artists across Dallas.

Attendees will also have a chance to learn more about the availability of DACA and a citizenship workshop will take place where articipants will learn how to complete their N-400 application for citizenship. Volunteer immigration attorneys and accredited representatives from the Department of Justice will be there for assistance.

The events come as fees for several immigration proceedings are set to rise by dramatic amounts come October 1.

Starting on October 2, the financial barrier will grow even taller for many immigrants as fees are set to increase. The fee to apply for U.S. citizenship will increase from $640 to $1,160 if filed online, or $ 1,170 in paper filing, a more than 80% increase in cost. 

“In the middle of an economic downturn, an increase of $520 is a really big amount,” François told the Miami-Herald.

Aside from the fee increase, many non-citizen immigrants never truly felt the need to become citizens. That was until the Coronavirus pandemic hit and had many questioning their status in the country.

“There are people who up until this COVID crisis, their status as a permanent resident didn’t impact their day-to-day life … but then the pandemic has given them another reason of why it’s important to take that extra step and become a citizen, because of the additional rights and protections that are afforded to you, but also to just have a sense of security and stability in a crisis.”

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ICE Continues To Disregard The Warning Signs As Another Migrant Dies Of Covid-19 While In Custody

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ICE Continues To Disregard The Warning Signs As Another Migrant Dies Of Covid-19 While In Custody

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The news out of 2020 continues to devastate and it’s getting harder and harder to be shocked by just how horrible things are looking. However, the level of neglect inside ICE detention centers is so shocking that it’s leading to a record number of deaths. No matter what year it is, that is shocking.

It’s been 14 years, during the presidency of George Bush, since ICE detention centers have recorded the level of deaths that they’re recording this year. Despite warnings from health and immigration experts, ICE has largely refused to release immigrants from overcrowded cells despite an ongoing and out of control global health pandemic. This blatant disregard for life has had a huge impact as at least 19 people have died while in ICE detention centers so far this fiscal year. 

ICE is responsible for the well-being of individuals in its custody and has broad discretion to release people for humanitarian reasons. The government should test everyone in its custody for COVID-19 and increase releases to prevent further deaths.

The recent death of a 5-year-old Honduran man brings the total number of ICE victims to 19 – in 2020 alone.

According to a report by Buzzfeed News, a 50-year-old Honduran man has become the latest victim of ICE’s cruel and inhumane detention policies. The man died at a Texas hospital after testing positive for Covid-19, according to the report.

The man was previously being held detention at the Joe Corley Processing Center in Texas, where, according to agency statistics, at least 50 people have tested positive for the virus. The preliminary cause of death, according to the source, was respiratory failure due to Covid-19.

He becomes the 19th victim of reckless ICE detention policies during the 2020 fiscal year – which ends on September 30. So far this year, there have been at least 19 confirmed deaths of migrants in ICE custody – the highest total since 2006.

And some how, despite a significant drop in the detainee population, the number of deaths this year is more than double that of 2019. Last fall, there were more than 55,000 people in ICE custody per day. As of Aug. 1, that number had dropped to about 21,500 per day.

Many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 but that’s not the complete picture.

Coronavirus has swept through ICE detention centers like wildfire and this has had a major impact on the health and welfare of detainees, the community, and even ICE employees.

So far this year, more than twice as many people have died in ICE custody over last year. And, unfortunately, there are at least 1,065 active Covid-19 cases in ICE detention centers, meaning more people are likely to get sick and die before the year ends.

The number of deaths is especially alarming considering the average number of people detained has been significantly lower this year than in recent years.

Farmville, an ICE detention center in Virgina, has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention. As of August 6, over 97% of people held in this ICE facility had contracted COVID-19. The outbreak began as a super-spreader event caused by a transfer of 74 people from Florida and Arizona.

Advocates have consistently criticized ICE for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people it detains.

For months, several major organizations have called for an orderly, coordinated release of detainees in ICE and CBP detention facilities.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty Images

Court challenges in multiple states seek to compel ICE to release detainees in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The Otay Mesa center southeast of San Diego is the subject of such a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The San Diego facility has 132 COVID-19 cases, the most patients by far of the 41 detention centers where the virus has been reported. There have also been 10 employees at the facility who have contracted the virus, according to ICE.

The facility has also been the target of protesters who, on April 11, drove up in vehicles and honked to bring attention to the health conditions.

“Despite unwavering calls to prevent this, Trump’s immigration system took another life,” Paola Luisi, co-director of the immigrant advocacy group Families Belong Together said in a statement Wednesday.

“You cannot cage a virus, and it is impossible to safely physically distance behind bars,” she said. “We fear this tragic death will be the first.”

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