The devastating picture of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, lying face down in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande jolted the nation awake this week.
We could no longer look away.
The tragedy of a father and daughter from El Salvador drowning while he tried to save her from being swept away by the strong river current reminded the nation of the horror of the unfolding humanitarian crisis at the border.
We must see them.
Martínez was leading his family from El Salvador to legally seek asylum in the United States.
But he was not able to get through the long wait at the border crossing, so he sought to swim the Rio Grande, stand on American soil, turn himself and his family in to Border Patrol and ask for asylum there.
All of that is legal.
But the river took them before they had a chance.
Martínez and his daughter were not the only migrants to die this week. A 20-year-old migrant woman and three small children were found dead in the desert near McAllen, Texas, having succumbed to the searing heat.
In addition to these deaths, the news from last weekend of migrant children held in detention in Border Patrol stations in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, without access to soap, toothbrushes, diapers or proper care, rightly caused an outcry from the public. Instead of the border security debate dominating the immigration headlines, Americans are now more fully seeing the human suffering of desperate migrants fleeing from home to a country that they hope will be a place of refuge.
The numbers of migrants coming are staggering.
The month of May saw almost 133,000 apprehensions at the U.S. southern border, with 96,000 consisting either of family units or unaccompanied children. The large numbers of migrants now turning themselves in to Border Patrol and asking for asylum has overwhelmed our system.
Our laws require that we hear and process asylum claims and that anyone who sets foot on U.S. soil can claim asylum, but with the government’s primary focus being on zero tolerance, deterrence, security, detention, deportation and keeping migrants away from the border, the number of families and children presenting themselves for asylum is too much to properly administer.
The Border Patrol is overwhelmed and chaos has ensued.
Hearing these stories this week reminded me of what I’ve seen in my own trips to the border in the past year, most recently to El Paso less than two months ago.
There, I connected with a network of churches receiving from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants a day. The churches gave the migrants food and drink and provided a temporary place to rest before they continued their journey to join family in other parts of America.
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Source: Religion News Service