A Photographic Call to Action
“The man and his 23-month-old daughter lay face down in shallow water along the bank of the Rio Grande, his black shirt hiked up to his chest with the girl tucked inside. Her arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments.” This was the description provided by the Associated Press about the bodies of two migrants found on the Rio Grande Border between the United States and Mexico. The image is a stirring reminder of what the inaction of politicians has assisted, if not guaranteed.
The background to the photograph adds to the tragedy. The man, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, was desperate. Oscar, his wife, and his daughter were not able surrender to Border Patrol to request Asylum within the United States. In one last desperate and ultimately fatal attempt, Oscar traversed the Rio Grande with his daughter and put her down on the embankment within the United States and went back to help his wife cross the river into the United States. Then tragedy struck, swimming back he and his daughter who had jumped in after him were caught up in the strong current of the Rio Grande river. Both were swept away by the current and their bodies were found on Monday.
This is a well-known incident of the difficulty that migrants face, but there are other less well-known cases which occur frequently. An ABC News reports “… 50 deaths in 2018 are marked as ‘water-related,’ presumably people who drowned trying to cross sections of the border marked by rivers” This tells us that the risk of drowning faced by migrants attempting to illegally enter the United States is a known occurrence, and yet little action is being taken. It is imperative that these deaths are a motive for politicians in Washington, DC to come together to prevent such deaths from occurring again.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that such a deal will be struck anytime soon with near legislative deadlock within the United States Congress and relations between Democrats and Republicans at an all-time low. However, this issue isn't just about policy. It is also about valuing human life, while still enforcing the laws of the United States.
Stephen Miller, an anti-immigration activist has been behind the harshest anti-immigration measures enacted and has even tried to force out those who don't share his agenda. As Politico reports, “In a letter to acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) called on the department to turn over communications tied a spate of resignations and forced exits earlier this month. The lawmakers cited reports that White House senior adviser Stephen Miller had pressed department officials ‘to make extreme immigration policy decisions.’ It continues "We are deeply concerned that the firing and forced resignation of these officials puts the security of the American people at risk. We are also concerned that the president may have removed DHS officials because they refused his demands to violate federal immigration law and judicial orders.”
There are other barriers to an immigration deal as well. The Democrats will insist on a provision within the text of the agreement and the subsequent Act of Congress for the legal protection of the "Dreamers,” a term used to describe those who are protected under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).Two years ago, on June 16, 2017, DHS announced that it wished to repeal DACA but due to legal battles Dreamers are still living in the United States. However, they are still living in “legal limbo” with no guarantee that they will stay in the only country they’ve ever known after the legal battles end over the program. The President has flip-flopped on this issue and despite tentatively supporting Dreamers staying in the United States, no action has been taken by the Administration to guarantee the rights of Dreamers.
These are just two aspects of this very complex issue. There are also other measures that will prevent legislation from being passed. Meanwhile, the number of migrants who die trying to enter the United States will increase and while deaths are going to occur. Each death which is preventable is a black mark upon the United States.
What can ordinary Americans do? The answers aren’t easy. It is ultimately the responsibility of the Federal and State Governments to draft, enact, and enforce federal border policy. However, one way to improve the chances of a deal happening is to elect politicians who are actually willing to solve the crisis at hand and not utilize it for political gain.
Both sides of the aisle can at times have their political instincts get the better of them and utilize the current immigration crisis to boost their party’s support or influence.. Immigration, even with its complexity and possible suffering, is political gold for both conservative and liberal bases. It provides ample chance for political campaigns and attack ads. This is a hindrance to the deliverance of such a deal
So, the way to help is not to elect far left democrats or far right republicans, whose extreme views on the issue cause division. Instead, support and vote for those who are moderate, who can compromise and work across the aisle to actually achieve a deal which can at the same time both respect human rights and the dignity of migrants and enforce a strong, safe and secure border.
When you are in the voting booth for your next congressional election remember what the inaction of politicians in Washington, DC helped enable: this photograph. A picture really is worth a thousand words.