Pope Francis saddened by drowning of migrant father, daughter at U.S. border

Authorities stand behind yellow warning tape along the Rio Grande bank where the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria were found, in Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, June 24, 2019, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Martinez' wife, Tania told Mexican authorities she watched her husband and child disappear in the strong current. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)

Editors' Note: We have decided not to display the graphic photo of the deceased father and daughter, but we have made it viewable here for readers who decide it is important to see it. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. bishops joined Pope Francis in expressing sadness after seeing photos of the lifeless bodies of a migrant father and his daughter who drowned near the U.S. border with Mexico.

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"This image cries to heaven for justice. This image silences politics. Who can look on this picture and not see the results of the failures of all of us to find a humane and just solution to the immigration crisis?" the bishops said in a June 26 statement.

"Sadly, this picture shows the daily plight of our brothers and sisters. Not only does their cry reach heaven. It reaches us. And it must now reach our federal government," said the statement, issued by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.

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The photos of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, lying face down in the shallow waters of the Rio Grande sparked outrage against the U.S. government due to squalid conditions at migrant facilities as well as increasingly harsher policies against immigrants, many of whom are from Central America, fleeing their countries due to violence, poverty and corruption.

"We can and must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence, persecution and acute poverty," the bishops said. "All people, regardless of their country of origin or legal status, are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect."

In response to journalists' questions June 26, Alessandro Gisotti, interim Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis saw "with immense sadness" the photos.

"The pope is profoundly saddened by their death and is praying for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery," Gisotti said.

In an interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Martinez's wife, Tania, said she and her husband decided to cross the Rio Grande June 23 after waiting for two months for a response to their asylum request from the United States.

Hoping to cross the river into Brownsville, Texas, Martinez first crossed with his daughter and left her along the bank while returning back to help his wife cross. However, upon being left alone, Valeria was frightened and jumped into the river.

Rushing to save her, Martinez and his daughter were instead dragged by the current. Tania was rescued by a person nearby, she told La Jornada.

Twelve hours later, firefighters from Matamoros, Mexico, found the two bodies, both facedown, with Valeria's lifeless arm clutching her father's neck.

During his weekly general audience earlier in the day, the pope called on Christians to be more welcoming of others.

While greeting Spanish-speaking pilgrims, he praised Mexico, which has seen an increased influx of Central American migrants, "because they are so welcoming, so welcoming to migrants."

"May God repay you," he said.

Addressing reports of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at migrant centers, Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said "such conditions cannot be used as tools of deterrence."

"Congress has a duty to provide additional funding to address the needs of children in federal custody," they said. "Their supplemental appropriations bill should also increase protections for immigrant children, including heightened standards and oversight for border facilities. It is possible and necessary to care for the safety of migrant children and the security of our citizens. By putting aside partisan interests, a nation as great as ours is able to do both."

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Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho Esteves at the Vatican. This story has been updated with new content from CNS.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

Does the fault lie with those who encourage them to come? Also does the basic fault lie with the Catholic Church which helped create the dysfunctional world where the migrants are coming from? Only a few can be absorbed so the only solution must take place in the countries where they come from.

Thomas Farrelly
3 months 2 weeks ago

Considering that most Latin American countries are still at least nominally Catholic, it is unfortunate that the Pope has so little to say about the corruption and violence of those countries that has their people trying to flee to the US. Perhaps he should make a special effort to try to change those cultures. Entire populations cannot expect to move to the US and be welcomed. The US has enough problems of its own that it cannot be expected to absorb the hundred millions who would arrive with open borders. We have plenty of people already living at the margins. We cannot be expected to offer an endless welcome to millions of impoverished and unskilled people.

Will Nier
3 months 2 weeks ago

Sad this happened but if these people could only stay in Mexico while paperwork for their LEGAL entry into the USA goes through it would be much more fair for everyone and also for those who have taken the necessary legal steps for citizenship. It is not the duty of the USA to care or feed these people they can work in Mexico or Mexico can support them. Do it the legal way or no way at all. We have to make sure no people with communicable diseases enter the USA or members of crime. Where are the faith based institutions when it comes to feeding and clothing and caring for these people. To many of them to handle.

arthur mccaffrey
3 months 2 weeks ago

not one word about the irresponsibility of these parents bringing a young child on such a dangerous trip. The Catholic Church has a big influence in Latin America--why does it not start preaching birth control to poor families who cannot support numerous births. Or why does RCC not become active in reforming the governments and societies of S. America to improve lives locally instead of pushing immigration as the only option. What would these people do if there was no USA to the north? migrate to the Vatican?

KATHERIN MARSH
3 months 2 weeks ago

Dear Editors,
Immigration is a problem of immense proportions involving many issues. One reason is because in our country we have immigration laws that belong to an earlier era. Another reason is because we do not keep this issue front and center in people's consciousness. A third issue is Mexico. If we read between the lines, this child and father died while fleeing from Central America and from Mexico. Another reason is that immigrants get into this country easily. Then disappear once they are here, partly because we are a capitalistic economy. This loop hole is adversely affecting disasterously. I think we need to turn the paradigm upside down. Let the United States annex Baja California. Migrants who want to flee to the United States can “stand down” in Baja. The US can send her wonderful charities and charitable contributions to Baja, and we can process and vet the migrants.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]

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