AP: The father and daughter who drowned crossing the Rio Grande were economic migrants who planned to claim asylum

You’ve probably seen the photo by now. A father and daughter from El Salvador washed up on the Mexican shore of the Rio Grande Monday after trying to cross the river. The little girl was not quite two years old. The image is tragic and hard to look at. Today the Associated Press offered some additional background on the story behind the image. The family left their country for economic reasons but planned to file an asylum claim anyway:


The young family from El Salvador appeared in this border city over the weekend with panic on their faces.

They went to the downtown bridge that leads to Brownsville, Texas, where Xiomara Mejia, a migrant from Honduras, explained that the newcomers would not be able to add their names to the long list of families waiting to apply for asylum in the United States until Monday…

“They said to me, ‘You haven’t tried to cross the river?’” Mejia said. “We said to them, ‘No,’ because of the children more than anything. I don’t know how to swim and my kids do, but either way I’m not going to risk it.”…

“I didn’t think they were going to decide to cross the river,” Mejia said.

But they didn’t wait to add their names to the list. Like a lot of migrants, they decided to cross the border on their own. They attempted to cross the Rio Grande in a spot where it is narrow but fast moving. The husband, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, swam across with his 23-month-old daughter Valeria and set her down on the US side of the river. Then he started to swim back across to help his wife who was still waiting on the Mexican side. But when the little girl saw her dad leaving she apparently got scared and jumped into the water after him. He reversed course to rescue her and both of them were swept away by the current.


Again, it’s an awful, tragic story. It makes you wonder why someone would take such risk even after being warned it was dangerous. According to Oscar’s mother, he and his wife and daughter were not fleeing gang violence or state persecution, they were economic migrants coming to the US for a better life:

Martínez had shared a sea-green brick home with barred windows in San Martin on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador, with his mother, his wife and their daughter.

In their working-class neighborhood of about 40,000 people, Martínez worked in a pizzeria and Ávalos was a cashier in a fast-food restaurant, said his mother, Rosa Ramírez.

The area has had problems with gang violence, but these days it’s calm, she said. She said her son never had any problems with gangs, and he left with his family for economic reasons.

Ramírez said she had given them the big room in the two-bedroom house, but they dreamed of saving money for a place of their own and the dream drove the family to head for the United States in early April.

“I told him, ‘Son, don’t go. But if you do go, leave me the girl,'” Ramírez said.

Curiously, what Oscar’s mother said about her son not having any problems with gangs has now been removed from the AP’s story. Here’s how the revised version on the AP site reads:


The couple and their daughter had lived with Martinez’s mother in a sea-green brick home with barred windows in a working-class neighborhood of San Martin on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador.

He worked in a pizzeria and she was a cashier in a fast-food restaurant, his mother, Rosa Ramírez, said.

Ramírez said she had given them the big room in the two-bedroom house, but they dreamed of saving money for a place of their own and decided to head for the United States in early April.

“I told him, ‘Son, don’t go. But if you do go, leave me the girl,’” Ramírez said.

The line about them being economic migrants is gone. Why was it removed?

Having an economic motive for migrating to the US doesn’t make the death of a father and his young daughter any less tragic. But it does highlight an aspect of what is happening at the border that Democrats and the media have often seemed eager to ignore (the AP seems to be whitewashing it even now).

Central Americans who want a better life in America are gaming our immigration system by the thousands every day, completely overwhelming the system. Claims of asylum do not extend to economic migrants, but these migrants have learned that if they cross the border and then turn themselves into Border Patrol and make an asylum claim, they won’t be deported. It’s a quick shortcut to get into the country and then get released. And that’s especially true if you’re traveling with a child.


And from what we know, it appears that’s exactly what Oscar and his family were doing. They were economic migrants who considered claiming asylum at a port of entry even though they had no real grounds for making such a claim. When that approach appeared to take too long, they tried to cross the river. Presumably, if they had all made it and were caught on the US side, they would have claimed asylum as they initially intended.

But the asylum process was not intended to apply to thousands of people per day who are, in fact, economic migrants. We don’t have enough Border Patrol agents to give “credible fear” interviews to all of these people and we definitely don’t have enough immigration judges to hear all of these cases in a timely manner. Most of these economic migrants will have their cases denied and many (at least 1/3 but possibly more) will have an adverse decision made in absentia because they won’t even show up for their hearing. In theory, they will be liable for deportation at that point but in practice, Democrats will scream about injustice whenever ICE tries to remove anyone for deportation who isn’t caught at the border.

What motivated Oscar and his family was the belief that he could have a better life in the US and that if he a) made it across the border unnoticed or b) got caught but made a bogus claim for asylum, he’d never have to leave the US. That’s not how our immigration system is supposed to work. Unfortunately, that’s how it does work at present and that loophole is leading tens of thousands of people to risk their lives and that of their children on a long and perilous journey to the United States.


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