Last week we were painfully distressed by the drowning of a young father and his baby daughter as they sought refuge in our country from the desperate situations in their home of El Salvador. 

The photo of the 25-year-old and his almost two-year-old daughter shook the nation. Many of us saw our own children reflected in the arm little Valeria held tightly around her father’s neck.

As tightly as Valeria hung to her father, we must cling to our resolve to fight for border and foreign aid policies that treat people with dignity and respect.


The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico on 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. (Photo: Julia Le Duc/AP)

How many more must lose their lives before our nation accepts responsibility and changes its heartless treatment of families desperate to escape the senseless violence and crushing poverty that has taken over their homelands? How many more tragedies will we mourn before our nation begins the search for real answers to the disasters on our doorsteps?

Our Congress must stop squabbling over what to do about the thousands of refugees seeking refuge in our country and begin taking serious steps to address the chaos and crime that are driving thousands to abandon their homes to seek relief. The U.S. government must work with the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and find answers to the root causes to the exodus of their people.

The U.S. government has for decades systematically undermined freedom in Central America to protect the interests of huge, U.S.-owned corporations. The U.S. has actively supported government corruption and turned a blind eye to the abuses of the poor by their own governments.

It may be hard to accept the reality that the U.S. is not, in fact, the benevolent force in world matters that it presents itself to be. But it is much easier to accept that reality than one where a desperate child dies almost weekly on our watch.

We have to admit the role of this government in creating the crushing poverty in Central America and stop pretending the U.S. has no role to play in addressing the mess created. We need to call on politicians from both major parties to get serious about fixing the situation.

We know that approach will take some time to begin to show real progress. In the meantime, we have to acknowledge that the current set of policies that treat a humanitarian crisis as a law enforcement issue is responsible for most of the pain, suffering, and even deaths like the ones we have seen over the past months. The administration worsens the crisis through its policies that use cruelty and horrid conditions as a deterrent. The “Remain in Mexico” program creates enormous and artificial backlogs and forces asylum-seekers to wait outside the country while their applications are processed. The zero humanity “zero-tolerance” policy criminalizes crossing the border and separates children from their families, cramming them into crowded border control cages. It is an outrageous failure of our border policies that the default approach to processing vulnerable refugees is to ship them off to Border Patrol jails.

This collection of inhumane and dehumanizing policies demonstrates that the only thing standing between asylum-seekers and the safety and dignity provided by refuge in our country is a racist government bent on keeping people of color out. We must recognize our country’s racist past and our racist present before we can absolutely reject the place of racism in our future. The Trump Administration has clearly embraced racism, and we must make that clear to everyone we meet, every day and in every way.

The time is now for a humanitarian response to humanitarian need. We need to bring aid in and get Border Patrol out. We must put the necessary resources in place to efficiently process arriving immigrants and connect them with family and other sponsors quickly and safely.

Above all, we must stop pretending those who arrive at our border have no reason to try to escape the conditions in their home countries, which the U.S. government has played a role in creating.

How wetreat people at the border today will define who we are as a country for generations to come. As border residents, we are already welcoming newcomers and advocating for sensible border policies that uphold our rights and our values. Our government leaders must follow the example of border communities and advance a humanitarian response at the Southern border and in Central America.

Join me in telling this administration and its inhumane policies, “Ya Basta! Enough is enough!”