A gut-wrenching photo that strikes at the heart of the immigration debate went viral this week. It shows a father and his young daughter face down on the shore of the Rio Grande. The girl has her arm around the man’s neck. Both are dead. Any parent — well, any human being with a functioning conscience — can’t help but be moved and devastated by the scene.
The Left has attempted to use the image to make its case for open borders. We are told that, somehow, this is Trump’s fault. It’s the GOP’s fault. “This message brought to you by the Republican Party,” a progressive group captioned the photo. But the story behind the image, as reported by Daily Mail and New York Magazine, reveals that this calamity was not at all brought on by strict immigration enforcement. The opposite is the case.
Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria were swept away while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas on Sunday. Oscar made it safely across with Valeria, but tragedy struck when she followed him back into the river as he went back to get his wife. He tried to save his daughter but they both drowned in the process.
The Daily Mail describes the circumstances that lead to this family attempting to traverse a dangerous river on foot:
They left El Salvador on April 3 and spent two months in a migrant camp in southern Mexico, awaiting news of their asylum request to the US, before they decided to take a bus to the border on Sunday to try to speed up their case.
When they arrived, the consulate was closed but they also learned they were far down a list of hundreds of migrants in line for interviews. They decided to make the crossing illegally rather than wait – a decision that led to their deaths.
This was not a family turned coldly away as it fled violence and oppression. They were not turned away at all. They simply grew impatient waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to turn. Indeed, family members confirm that the family was not being persecuted in its home country:
Oscar worked at a Papa Johns pizza restaurant, where he was earning $350 a month.
They lived off his wage, limiting themselves to $10-a-day, because Tania had already quit her job as a cashier in a Chinese restaurant to care for Valeria, their only child.
…They were not fleeing violence, Tania’s mother has since said, but were in desperate search of a life where they could earn more.
Their plan was to spend a few years in America to save up enough money to eventually return to El Salvador and buy or build their own house.
This might explain why their asylum request was taking so long to process. Ramirez and his family were looking for asylum from low-paying fast-food jobs, which isn’t how the asylum program is traditionally meant to be used. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website defines “asylum” this way:
Refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
We have stretched the concept of “persecuted on account of race, religion, or social group” into meaningless if we include those who are (understandably) distressed by low wages. If you blame the terrible deaths of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez on Trump, you must be arguing that the President should have personally moved the Ramirez family to the front of the asylum line. Or else that he should have instated a general policy that grants immediate asylum to anyone in the world who wants to come here for a few years to make some money and then return home. This would be absurd, of course. Donald Trump isn’t responsible for this. Neither is the Republican Party. So, what (or who) is responsible?
It seems there are two systematic problems we can blame. First, abuses of the asylum system have been tolerated for so long that people who shouldn’t qualify for asylum still expect to receive it. I don’t blame Ramirez for seeking asylum. If I were in his position, I probably would have done the same. But we obviously cannot make someone a refugee because they weren’t getting paid enough at Papa John’s. Requests of that kind should be denied immediately. Loopholes that allow or encourage these sorts of abuses must be closed.
Second, our border is porous and everyone knows it. Ramirez knew that if he could just make it across the river, he’d probably be home free. Again, I don’t blame him for attempting it, but I do blame our government for enticing men like Ramirez by leaving the border open. If he only knew that his chances of making it across were extremely slim, perhaps he never would have stepped foot into that river. A fortified and enforced border may seem mean and scary to metropolitan liberals, but it would be life-saving for people on both sides of it.
If Ramirez knew that he couldn’t get here by erroneously seeking asylum or by sneaking across, maybe he would have tried to apply for citizenship through the standard channels. Or else he might have stayed in El Salvador and thought about other ways to increase his income. If he had done either of those things, he and his daughter would be alive today. The compassionate thing, then, is to encourage as many people as possible to choose between one of those two options. And that means enforcing our laws and protecting our border.