Migrant: Young family ignored advice against border swim

Thursday, June 27, 2019
By Paul Martin


MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) — 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.

“I noticed they were really nervous, scared,” said Mejia, who had arrived in Matamoros with her husband and three children on May 8 and was still waiting to file an asylum application with the U.S. government.

“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.”

After chatting, the Salvadoran family said they would come back Monday.

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

But on Sunday, not far downriver from that bridge, the family crossed a popular bike and jogging path and walked down a slope through the brush to the edge of the Rio Grande.

The river does not appear wide there, maybe 20 to 30 yards, but that short distance obscures the dangers posed by the swift-moving current.

Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, made the crossing first with his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, then left her on the riverbank while he returned for his wife. But the frightened little girl plunged into the river after him and as he struggled to save her, they both were carried away by the fast-moving waters.

Their bodies were recovered early Monday, lying face down in the mud just a few hundred yards downriver, a heartbreaking scene captured in a news photo — the girl tucked inside her father’s shirt for protection, her arm around his neck.

Martínez’s 21-year-old wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, was to accompany the bodies of her husband and daughter back to El Salvador on Thursday.

Tamaulipas state immigration official Enrique Maciel said that Ávalos was “in a total shock” and would not be speaking to reporters. Covered in white sheets, the two bodies were placed into a morgue van to be driven to a funeral home on Wednesday.

“She is afflicted. She is suffering. It is a dream they had to get ahead as a family, the three of them, and she returns in mourning with only the bodies of her family,” Maciel said.

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.

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