This week, a photograph of a dead man and child has demonstrated the reality of the dangers that migrants attempting to reach the United States face. According to the Los Angeles Times, the photo was originally published on Monday by a Mexican newspaper and then went viral on social media. The picture reached the front page of the New York Times on Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that the man in the photo, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, left El Salvador in April with his wife and toddler. They first requested asylum in southern Mexico, but later decided to attempt to reach the United States. Upon reaching the U.S. border last weekend, they were told they could not cross because of the policy of “metering” at the United States border. The family then decided to swim across the Rio Grande and turn themselves in to border authorities. Unfortunately, the young girl panicked, and she and her father drowned.
The picture and story have rallied politicians and officials to call for immediate action at the border. According to the Chicago Tribune, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called on President Donald Trump to look at the image commenting, “These are not drug dealers or vagrants or criminals; they are people simply fleeing a horrible situation.” Schumer’s comment is one of many various calls to action regarding the current immigration policy and treatment of migrants at the border. Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington commented, “I watched young kids being turned away, and then having to go to and cross at all these terrible points. The reason we have this big buildup of people at the border is because of metering, because we’re slow-walking processing of asylum seekers, because we have a ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, because we’ve cut aid to Central American countries.” Al Jazeera reported that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded to the incident by saying, “Very regrettable that this would happen. We have always denounced that as there is more rejection in the United States, there are more people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing the river.”
Clearly, something must be done about the situation at the southern border of the United States. The Chicago Tribune reports that on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed a $4.6 billion emergency spending package, but only after rejecting a House-passed version that included changes to immigration policy and processing. While funding for much needed supplies and expansion is needed, the problem runs deeper than facilities. The main problem at the border right now is the large influx of migrants that is causing large delays and overcrowding. This then causes poor conditions and dangerous attempts to cross unofficially. One way this problem could be alleviated is to speed up the processing system by eliminating the policy of “metering” and increasing the number of cases the United States hears each day. This will allow more people to cross the border, decrease wait times and overcrowding, and lessen the number of dangerous attempts to cross the Rio Grande. Another solution to this problem is to lessen the number of migrants that are traveling to the border. This solution is considerably more difficult to carry out because it involves substantial economic and social improvement in the Central American countries from which the migrants are traveling. However, improving those countries would encourage citizens to stay in those countries and lessen the migrants traveling to the United States.
Unfortunately, the problem of excess migrants and poor conditions is an issue whenever there is a surge at the border. The Chicago Tribune claims that complaints about detainments also surfaced in 2014 when there was a surge during the Obama administration. Then, like now, different entry points are taking differing numbers of asylum cases each day. CBS News claims that near San Diego, 80 cases can be handled per day, but at other entries, sometimes days go by with no new cases being seen. This has resulted in an estimated 18,000 people waiting at the border, and processing centers holding hundreds more people than they were built for.
The conditions at the southern border of the United States cannot be ignored. In order to prevent these conditions, the United States must work to increase their processing ability and lower the number of people waiting or being detained at the border. A secondary solution is to work within the countries these migrants are coming from to lessen the number of people leaving those countries. Regardless, the migrants need help. Otherwise the death toll due to the poor conditions and risky decisions such as the one that killed the man and his daughter earlier this week will continue to increase.