Things That Matter

The Victims From That Heartbreaking Photo Of A Father And Daughter Who Drowned Crossing Into The US Have Been Laid To Rest

Photographs of Valeria, lying face down in the water with her little arm wrapped around the neck of her father, Oscar Alberto Martínez, broke hearts around the world and underscored the dangers that migrants undertake in trying to reach the US.

Now, their bodies have been laid to rest back in El Salvador.

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A man and his young daughter who drowned trying to cross into Texas were laid to their final rest Monday, a week after a heartbreaking image of their bodies floating in the Rio Grande circled the globe.

About 200 relatives and friends followed a hearse bearing the bodies of Óscar Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria inside La Bermeja municipal cemetery in southern San Salvador. The ceremony was private, and journalists were not allowed access.

Many wore black and wept. They carried flowers and green palms, and some held signs bearing the logo of the Alianza soccer team favored by Óscar Martínez, who belonged to a group that supports the club. “For those who cheer you on from heaven,” one read.

Mourners stood with the family in their pain and time of need.

“I knew them. They are good people, and I can’t believe they died this way,” said Berta Padilla, who arrived earlier along with about 30 others on a bus from Altavista, the working-class city the Martínezes called home before they left in early April, headed for the United States. “We came from Altavista to be with Óscar’s family,” Padilla added in an interview with TIME. “We are with them in their pain.”

After the burial, relatives stayed behind at the gravesite to say a last goodbye, said family friend Reyna Moran. “This is very painful, most of all because of the baby. … They went in search of a better future, but everything came to an end in the river,” Moran said.

A collection of floral arrangements adorned the grave, including one from El Salvador’s president and first lady. Interior Minister Mario Durán was among those who attended.

The father and his daughter have been buried in a special section of the cemetery.

A municipal police officer said their graves were in a section of the cemetery named after Saint Óscar Romero, the San Salvador archbishop who devoted himself to helping the poor and was assassinated in 1980. Romero, who was canonized last year, is buried in the crypt of the city’s cathedral.

Before their heartbreaking deaths, the family had plans to make a new life for their daughter in the US.

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Martínez, 25, and his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, had been living with his mother and apparently felt that their salaries working at a pizza parlor and as a restaurant cashier would never be enough to purchase a modest home in their suburb of San Salvador.

That dream to save money for a home led the family to set out for the United States, according to Martínez’s mother, Rosa Ramírez.

The neighborhood they left behind in El Salvador is a humble bedroom community where most people live in low-rise, two-bedroom homes with a combination kitchen-living room-dining room, worth about $10,000-$15,000 each.

Meanwhile, El Salvador’s president has taken responsibility for the deaths.

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The president of El Salvador said his country was to blame for the deaths of a Salvadoran man and his daughter who drowned last week while trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States, The New York Times reports.

“People don’t flee their homes because they want to,” President Nayib Bukele said Sunday during a news conference. “They flee their homes because they feel they have to.”

“We can blame any other country, but what about our blame? What country did they flee? Did they flee the United States?” Bukele said. “They fled El Salvador.”

READ: This Cartoonist’s Right To Free Speech Is Under Threat As He Loses His Job For A Cartoon About Trump’s Failed Immigration Policies

A Third Man Has Died In ICE Custody After Testing Positive For Covid-19

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A Third Man Has Died In ICE Custody After Testing Positive For Covid-19

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As ICE continues to detain thousand of migrants across the country in crowded detention centers, the pandemic continues to claim lives. This time a 51-year-old Mexican man has died after testing positive for Covid-19 while in ICE custody.

For months, migrant and refugee rights organizations have implored the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – the agency that oversees ICE – to release all people in their custody to avoid mass contagion. The fear has been that keeping thousands of people in close quarters and without proper access to medical care could result in the deaths of countless people. But the agency refuses to listen, and it’s costing lives.

ICE announced that a third man has died in their custody after battling a Coronavirus infection.

A 51-year-old Mexican man, Onoval Perez-Montufa, has been announced as the latest victim to die of Coronavirus infection while in ICE custody. Perez-Montufa has been in ICE custody since June 15, when he was released from a Massachusetts prison and was being held by ICE at the Glades County Detention Center in Florida before he died on Sunday.

Perez-Montufa had been hospitalized for nearly two weeks as he attempted to fight off his Covid-19 infection. He entered the Palm Beach Country hospital on July 1 after reporting shortness of breath while in ICE detention.

He tested positive for COVID-19 on July 2, ICE said. The cause of death on Sunday was not immediately known.

Reports of the man’s death drew swift condemnation from immigrant rights organizations, who’ve been pushing for weeks for ICE to release more detainees from its facilities and arguing coronavirus poses a deadly threat to immigrants behind bars.

The death comes more than a month after a Guatemalan man who tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody.

Unfortunately, Perez-Montufa is not the only victim of ICE’s continued detention policy amid a global health pandemic. His death comes a month after a 34-year-old Guatemalan man who had tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody at a Georgia hospital in May.

That man, 34-year-old Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, had been in ICE custody at Stewart Detention Center since early March, the agency confirmed in a statement.

Baten-Oxlaj was the second confirmed victim of the virus while in ICE custody after a man from El Salvador died in early May.

Migrants in detention centers are at increased risk for the disease.

According to ICE’s own data, there are currently 883 cases of Covid-19 among the nearly 23,000 detainees in ICE custody. That’s an overall infection rate of nearly 4% – far above the national average.

And since the very start of the Coronavirus pandemic, medical experts and immigrant rights activists have warned about the growing risk detainees would face. They’ve long pointed out the inherent difficulties within detention centers – such as a lack of necessary space to accommodate proper social distancing guidelines – that put people in danger. Not to mention that the agency has long faced accusations of providing inadequate medical care to detainees. Advocates have used these arguments as a way to push for more releases.

At the beginning of the pandemic, ICE did asses their detainee population and decided to relocate vulnerable detainees, including those who are over 60 or are pregnant. Meanwhile, several federal judges have ordered ICE to release more than 500 detainees, citing the preexisting medical conditions of the immigrants released and the potential for life-threatening complications from COVID-19.

Despite the ongoing deaths and sky high infection rates, ICE said in a press release: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive, agency-wide review of this incident.”

Evelyn Hernandez – A Rape Survivor – Was Imprisoned Under Anti-Abortion Laws, Now She’s A Free Woman

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Evelyn Hernandez – A Rape Survivor – Was Imprisoned Under Anti-Abortion Laws, Now She’s A Free Woman

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It’s no secret that countries across Latin America have some of the strictest abortion laws in the world – El Salvador is no exception. In fact, it’s the only known country that that regularly prosecutes and imprisons women as a result of its abortion ban – even in cases where the women suffered  miscarriages, stillbirths and other obstetric emergencies.

But over the last decade, activists, lawyers, and international women’s groups have rallied behind Salvadoran women imprisoned for “obstetric emergencies.” Since 2009, more than 38 women have been released from jail, 16 remain incarcerated, and at least three — including Evelyn Hernandez — are in the middle of legal proceedings.

Evelyn Hernandez, of El Salvador, has been found innocent after a retrial.

Evelyn Hernandez’s case had made international headlines when she was tried for homicide charges after experiencing a stillbirth – when she didn’t even know she was pregnant.

But after years of maintains her innocence of any wrongdoing, Hernandez has finally been found innocent by El Salvador’s judicial system.

“I was made the victim of a justice system that is anything but just. I know that there are countless other women who have experienced the same in a country where miscarriages are still considered a crime and reproductive rights are nonexistent. We must stand up and demand that the Salvadoran government release all the remaining women who have been wrongfully put behind bars like me. The fight does not end here,” Hernandez said after the trial.

Her defense attorney added in a tweet, “I am about to explode with happiness.”

Amnesty International described the verdict as a “resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador” and called on the government to “end the shameful and discriminatory practice of criminalizing women”.

El Salvador has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world.

Since 1998, El Salvador has had a complete and total ban on abortion – with zero exceptions – including in cases where the woman’s life is at risk for the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. In fact, El Salavador is the only known country that regularly prosecutes and imprisons women as a result of its abortion ban – even in cases where the women suffered  miscarriages, stillbirths and other obstetric emergencies.

Typically, women found guilty face between two and eight years in jail but in many cases – as was the case with Evelyn – charges are increased to aggravate homicide, which carries a minimum sentence of 30 years.

Today, more than 20 women are in prison under trumped up charges of manslaughter, homicide, or aggravated homicide after being accused of having an abortion. In total, at least 50 women have been imprisoned.

Evelyn’s case had been in the headlines for years after repeated appeals by prosecutors.

Evelyn’s case started when she was a victim of sexual violence in her community – having allegedly been raped by a gang member at 18-years-old.

She was first arrested after the body of her baby was found on the property of her rural home. Evelyn says she had experienced severe stomach pains and bleeding and went to the toilet, where she passed out. It’s here where her baby was stillborn. But in 2017, a judge ruled that Evelyn knew she was pregnant and tried to conceal the baby’s birth. She was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison, of which she has already served 33 months.

In July 2017, the judge ruled that Ms Hernández knew she was pregnant and found her guilty. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison of which she has already served 33 months.

Evelyn’s lawyers appealed the judge’s decision. They said forensic tests showed that the baby had died of meconium aspiration, inhaling his own stool. This can happen while the baby is still in the uterus, during delivery or immediately after birth. 

The lawyers said the test proved that Evelyn had not tried to abort the baby but that it had died of natural causes. “There is no crime,” defense lawyer Bertha María Deleón said during oral arguments. In 2019, the country’s Supreme Court agreed and annulled Evelyn’s 2017 conviction and ordered a retrial with a new judge.

Evelyn’s case could have a major impact on several other women across the country accused of similar crimes.

Credit: Oscar Rivera / Getty Images

According to human rights experts, there are at least 17 other women who have been jailed under the country’s strict abortion laws. Campaigners have successfully managed to free about 30 other women over the last decade  – after winning hard-fought court cases.

Evelyn’s retrial is the first case to be heard under new President Nayib Bukele, who took office in June, and women’s groups are hoping he could usher in a more lenient stance on the issue. 

President Bukele has said that he opposes abortion but has expressed sympathy with women suffering miscarriages who then come under suspicion.

“If a poor woman suffers a miscarriage, she’s immediately suspected of having had an abortion. That’s where the issue of social inequality comes into play,” he said while he was running for president.