Facedown in the river were two dead bodies. Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, tucked under his shirt. They were trying to cross the Rio Grande but were taken by the current and found on the banks near Brownsville, Texas.
The photo has turned everyone’s face a dour gray.
Or maybe a shamed red.
The photo published by the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, represents the immigration debate we’re having in America.
When policy is stymied, the journey continues, and while we wait for answers, innocents die.
Ramirez’ wife told La Jornada that the family from El Salvador had been waiting in a camp for two months on the other side of a bridge in Matamoros, Mexico that connects to Brownsville.
For two months, they were waiting to make their asylum claims. But they couldn’t cross the bridge.
Sunday, the husband decided to cross the river and took his daughter. He got her safely to shore, then went back into the water to return for his wife.
But then the daughter yearned for her father and followed him. As he swam to rescue her, the currents overtook them both.
The haunting photograph is all that’s left.
It’s the modern day immigration story. Manmade. Politicized. Because people want to build walls instead of allowing legitimate freedom-seekers to cross a bridge.
The picture has been the talk of the political world since.
Are we really talking about an open border policy? Asylum is a humanitarian policy. But Trump would rather debate than give in to humanity.
It’s “First do no harm” time. That would be the Hippocratic oath. Not a hypocritic oath. But the wall of politics is all we have for now.
Until Gen Z grows up.
MORE MODERN IMMIGRATION STORIES Here’s a fact about those considered Generation Z, defined as born between now and 1995. The under 24 crowd.
Who’s talking to them? They’re the future voters.
Here are some startling facts about Gen Z.
They are the most multicultural generation of recent times, according to a presentation I saw recently by EAB Research.
As a group, they are 45 percent non-Caucasian, and poly-ethnic—the New America. And quite naturally, 72 percent of them believe that racial equality is the most important issue of the day.
They are purpose-driven, which is good, because there will be a lot of causes to fight for in the future. And they’re cost-conscious, also good, because there won’t be much public money if we let the rich go untaxed. The generation’s idol? Malala Yousafzai, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize winner at 18.
Can’t wait to see them in power? It could be faster if they can get by a few calcified politicians along the way.
If you watched the Democratic debates this week, ask yourself, who was talking to them?
THE IMMIGRATION OF INNOCENTS Gen Z has its unique immigration stories. It’s the immigration of innocents. Brought here as children, and yet treated like criminals.
I saw another story when I opened up my Harvard alumni magazine, which I get free because Harvard hopes I will give it money. But I graduated in the same class as Bill Gates, one of three in the “$100 Billion Club.” I tell the school, “I’m on Bill’s tab.”
But the magazine did introduce me to Daishi Miguel Tanaka, Class of 2019.
Tanaka is a recipient of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and now a Harvard degree.
His story shows the immigration complexities of the day.
Tanaka and his mother were born in the Philippines, but found their way to Japan. According to the Harvard Magazine story, the family, including a Japanese father, then immigrated to California in 2004 when Daishi Tanaka was just six years old.
But faced with immigration backlogs, naturalizing would have taken more than 20 years.
The family overstayed their visas. And the double life began.
Things changed in 2012 when the Obama administration created DACA. A high school Spanish teacher encouraged him to apply for DACA. He did. And then he applied and got into Harvard. A double win!
Returning home after freshman year, he saw his parents living in a garage and being exploited as care givers. At the time, the parents’ version of DACA–DAPA– had some hope of being implemented but has since been mothballed. Daishi’s parents were forced to leave for Japan voluntarily where they could retire and get health care.
“I understood that it was the best thing for them,” Daishi told Harvard Magazine. “They gave up a lot of their physical health working very difficult manual jobs in the U.S. as undocumented workers. So I spent all my summer savings for their self-deportation tickets, and ever since then I have been living in the U.S. by myself.”
That’s the modern Filipino immigration tragedy. Come for the hope, leave with despair. Undocumented, forced to self-deport, son on DACA, not even Harvard is American enough.
I talk about my dad being at my graduation in my show, “Amok,” (Come see it in July at the Capital Fringe in DC this July. Ticket info here.)
But Daishi’s mom couldn’t be in Cambridge for his. His mother was in a hospital in Japan receiving treatment for a heart ailment.
He’d like to go visit her in Japan, but because of DACA, he wouldn’t be allowed to return. He’s not likely to see his parents again until 2026.
These are the modern immigration stories of today. Our divisive politics makes it all bittersweet.
But Gen Z is the hope for the future. It’s Tanaka for sure. Some day. Perhaps. Let’s see. He’s working this summer for immigration reform.
Sadly, it won’t be Valeria, the Gen Z (or technically what’s being called “General Alpha”) toddler from El Salvador found on the banks of the Rio Grande.
But her face-down image has captured the hearts of the world and is now part of the ongoing debate.
She will forever be a reminder of the political walls that must come down.
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.