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.

Credit: @NBC10Boston / Twitter

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.

Credit: @democracynow / Twitter

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.

Credit: @thehill / Twitter

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

Two Children Died In Border Patrol Custody And New Report Says Government Wasn’t At Fault

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Two Children Died In Border Patrol Custody And New Report Says Government Wasn’t At Fault

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In 2018, seven undocumented children died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Seven may not seem like a lot, especially if you consider that thousands attempt to cross the southern border. However, the number is startling high when you take into consideration that previously to 2018, not one undocumented child had died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the past ten years. While some died due to health issues, people claim the deaths could have been prevented. Some of these deaths were investigated after there was a national outcry over the treatment of children in ICE and border custody. 

After the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General completed its investigation and found no wrongdoing on the part of border patrol officials. 

Last year, the public was horrified to hear of the passing of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died soon after crossing the border with her father in an attempt to seek asylum. Jakelin and her dad crossed the border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. As soon as the border patrol apprehended the pair, Jakelin’s dad requested medical help. Still, instead of taking her to a hospital right away, officials took her to another location, and her symptoms worsened after that. She soon went into cardiac arrest. Border Patrol EMT attempted to revive her twice. She was then airlifted to a hospital in El Paso where she ultimately succumbed to her symptoms.

Initially, government officials claimed that her father had been traveling with the young girl for days without water, but he disputed that. Her father claimed that his daughter “was fed and had sufficient water” during their journey from Guatemala to the U.S./ Mexico border. Furthermore, then Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan — who became Secretary of Homeland Security for a brief period (he resigned in October) — failed to notify Congress that Jakelin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez had died on his watch, which is required by law. 

The brief announcement by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) stated that the investigation “found no misconduct or malfeasance by DHS personnel.”

In regards to the death of Jakelin, the “OIG conducted a detailed investigation and coordinated with the local medical examiner’s office,” the press release statement read. “The state medical examiner’s autopsy report found the child died of natural causes due to sequelae of Streptococcal sepsis.” That is the cause of death medical officials had originally released. 

The death of 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez occurred just days after Jakelin passed away. Medical officials said he had an upper respiratory infection. He was given medication and then later released. But his condition did not improve, and he died on Christmas Eve 2018. 

Both deaths sparked outrage from the public and immigration advocates. As news of their deaths was reported in the media, it appeared as if border officials were not treating undocumented adults and children with the care and dignity they deserved.

“What is CBP doing to fulfill its border security mission but not treat children and families as threats who have to be incarcerated and kept from treatment and trauma-informed counseling that they need?” Chris Rickerd, a lawyer with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said to ABC News in December 2018.

The OIG report stated, in regards to 8-year-old Felipe, that after his condition got worse, the border patrol took him and his father to the hospital. That is where Felipe became unresponsive and was pronounced dead.

The “OIG conducted a detailed investigation and coordinated with the local medical examiner’s office,” the reported read. “The state medical examiner’s autopsy report found the child died from sepsis caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.”

While the OIG investigation said that the Border Patrol was not at fault, American doctors have long said that the conditions in which undocumented people are held in by the border patrol and ICE custody are unsanitary. They also said they need proper medical care. 

Earlier this month, several doctors protested the conditions at detention centers and demanded that undocumented people get flu vaccinations. 

“I’ve never had to fight so hard to give a vaccination to anyone, any patient, any population of patients who have needed it the most,” Dr. Bonnie Arzuaga told The Washington Post. “As a physician, I’m saddened by the stance our government has taken to deny basic preventative medicine to the people it is holding in its custody.”

It is unclear if the OIG is investigating the cases of the other children that died while in border patrol and ICE custody.

READ: The Family Of 7-Year-Old Jakelin Caal Maquin Is Disputing The Official Account Of Her Death

She Died In Border Patrol Custody, Now Details Are Emerging In The 7-Year-Old Guatemalan’s Death

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She Died In Border Patrol Custody, Now Details Are Emerging In The 7-Year-Old Guatemalan’s Death

@ACLUTexas / Twitter

We can’t say this enough (and no, we won’t get “over it”): the Trump administration’s hardened stance on migration has led to mass-scale suffering and individual stories that would break just about anybody’s heart. We have already discussed the living conditions in which minors are being kept in actual cages, how families are being separated sometimes permanently and the effects of an increased used of private companies to provide housing facilities for migrants and refugees detained by ICE and Border Patrol.

There have been deaths while migrants are in custody of these agencies. And recently doctors have been detained for trying to administer flu shots to migrant kids who due to weakened bodies, stress and physical proximity to each other are prone to acquire contagious diseases. The current situation in the border has brought out the best and the worst in people, from amazing acts of compassion to the most xenophobic remarks that lack any kind of nuance. 

But among all stories of despair and death, perhaps the ones that affect us the most on an emotional level are the deaths of minors while on custody of United States authorities.  

A Guatemalan girl was seven, and she died of dehydration, exhaustion and shock while in custody of Border Patrol.

The authorities have not released the girl’s name, but we know she was trying to cross the Mexican border illegally with her father. The pair were caught along with a group of undocumented migrants in a remote spot of the New Mexico desert. She was taken into the custody of the Border Patrol, which informed of her death on Thursday.

The details of her death are harrowing. As reported by The Washington Post: “the girl and her father were taken into custody about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in”. 

While in custody things took a turn for the worse, her already dire condition quickly deteriorated and it is unclear whether she was given water or food.

Yes, migrants arrive to the United States in terrible physical condition after crossing the desert in possibly the worst conditions anyone could imagine. They are subject to heat, unbelievable emotional distress, wildlife threats and lack of food and water. But the humane thing to do, and not just humane but also ethical and ascribed to international law, is to provide medical care to those detained.

The Washington Post report informs: “More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she ‘reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.” As The Washington Post argues, this could lead to further scrutiny to the processes through which migrants are processed and their health assessed. 

The child was transported by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso, Texas.

However, it was too late: less than 24 hours after arriving to El Paso. The father remains in El Paso with Guatemalan consular authorities. According to The Washington Post, Border Patrol is investigating the circumstances in which the little girl died, as “Food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, and it wasn’t immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures.”

The influx of migrants seems to have outgrown the capacity of US authorities and the sociopolitical situation in Latin America, and particularly in Central America, has led to recent episodes of violence and strife that has increased the number of those who wish to find survival (not even a better life, but the possibility to remain alive) in the United States. 

Activists are furious over how long it took for authorities to release information on the case.

Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said in a statement: “The fact that it took a week for this to come to light shows the need for transparency for CBP. We call for a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths.”

The autopsy results won’t be available for several days, but facts lead to dehydration, septic shock and fever. And it seems that we will sadly have more cases like this, as apprehensions have registered record numbers in recent months. As WP reports: “In November, Border Patrol agents apprehended a record 25,172 “family unit members” on the southwest border.” There is indeed a humanitarian crisis at hand.