Disturbing images of a father and child who apparently died from drowning is giving a glimpse into the chilling reality of the dangers migrants face when trying to flee to America.

What Happened

On Monday, journalist Julia Le Duc found the bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria along the banks of the Rio Grande. The father and daughter were found face down in the muddy banks with the young girl’s head inside his t-shirt and her arm draped over his neck.

The pictures have circulated on social media and acted as a grim reminder of the perilous journey migrants face when trying to reach the American border. For many Ramírez and Valeria are a perfect representation of the individuals that are never heard over deafening arguments over immigration laws in America.

The Discussion

Due to the highly volatile topic, the deaths of the father and daughter are already being pulled by both sides of the argument. Those opposed to allowing migrants to enter the country are using Ramírez and Valeria as an example of bad parenting for taking a child on such a dangerous journey. Along with claiming parental negligence, there is still the often used argument that the majority of children coming to the country with adults are being used as leverage to gain access to America.

On the other side of the aisle is the argument that the Trump administration’s vigorous and highly criticized treatment of those trying to enter the country is the driving factor in the death of Ramírez and Valeria. Despite fleeing from dangerous areas, the Trump administration is making it almost impossible for a migrant to request asylum. People believe the highly volatile situation at the border will continue to push migrants to more dangerous methods of trying to enter the country out of desperation.

How Do Migrants Seek Asylum

Despite the issue of America’s southern border remaining a huge topic of discussion since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, an alarming amount of people still do not seem to understand the most basic of immigration laws. Even being incredibly clear and straight to the point, there is an alarming amount of confusion in relation to how one goes about requesting asylum from America. One of the biggest myths that will not go away is that a migrant can apply for asylum from a U.S. embassy. This is not true.

First and foremost, asylum is legal protection for migrants that do not feel safe if they continued living in their home country. The main reason for requesting asylum is persecution or the risk of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, affiliations with social groups, or political opinion. Contrary to popular belief, U.S. embassies and consulates cannot process requests for asylum. That is because U.S. law clearly states asylum seekers can only apply for asylum if they are physically present in the United States. At the very least, to meet the requirements a person must be physically at a border or a port of entry.

Where Are The Majority Of Migrants Coming From

According to Pew Research, in 2017 there were 4.9 million unauthorized migrants from Mexico in America. That number had steadily decreased from 6.9 million in 2007. From 2007 to 2017 America began to see an increase of migrants from the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In 2017 the number of Northern Triangle migrants in America raised to 1.9 million from 1.5 million in 2007.

Does The Law Require Migrants To Stay In Mexico

One of the other big misunderstandings in migrants traveling from the Northern Triangle to America is the claim that they must seek asylum in Mexico. This claim is false. What people are thinking of is called a “safe third country” agreement. An agreement America does not have with Mexico, mainly because most human rights groups do not believe Mexico is even close to meeting the requirements of being considered a safe third country. America does have a safe third country agreement with Canada. Meaning, if an asylum seeker arrived in Canada on their way to America they would be forced to seek asylum in Canada and vice versa. After being granted asylum in Canada the migrant would then have to apply for citizenship in America.

The Trump administration began trying to push Mexico into a safe third country agreement but there are some serious issues with that idea. Mexico has made numerous commitments to provide asylum to migrants from the Northern Triangle but unfortunately has not made much for demonstrable progress. Issues in Mexico in regards to asylum include inhumane detainment, a lack of explaining the asylum seekers rights and an inability to keep migrants safe from violence and abductions from organized crime groups in the area. Without a third safe country agreement between America and Mexico, migrants from the Northern Triangle are allowed to travel through Mexico in an effort to reach the American border.

How Dangerous Is The Northern Triangle

The Northern Triangle was hit hard by civil wars in the 1980s which deeply embedded a legacy of violence in the area. The area remains in the control of political corruption, drug traffickers and extreme gang violence. The main reasons for migrants leaving the three countries include violence, forced gang recruitment, extortion, and poverty. Data from 2015 showed as many as 3.4 million migrants born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were living in America. This was double the estimated 1.5 million in 2000. Just over half were said to be living in America undocumented. Over the years all three countries have held a disturbing trend of ranking as the most violent countries in the world.

Organized crime groups are the main cause of violence in the three areas. The origins can be traced back to two civil wars. In El Salvador, a civil war between the military-led government and guerrilla groups from 1979-1992 left up to 75,000 dead. Meanwhile, a civil war in Guatemala from 1960-1996 killed as many as 200,000 people. While Honduras did not have a civil war of their own, they still felt the direct repercussions of the extreme violence in the neighboring countries. Honduras also served as the staging ground for U.S.-backed Contras fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in the 1980s.

When the war ended, many men found themselves unemployed with easy access to weapons. In Guatemala, illegal clandestine security apparatuses developed out of state intelligence and military forces. It was not long before Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18) began getting involved in the Northern Triangle. The two gangs alone are estimated to have 85,000 members. Both of these international gangs were formed in Los Angeles. M-18 was started by Mexican youths in the 1960s while MS-13 was started by Salvadorans in the 1980s who had fled the area during the civil war. In the 1990s, America conducted large-scale deportation of undocumented immigrants with criminal records, their presence quickly grew in the still recovering Northern Triangle.

Adding to the problems with violence, the three countries have some of the most underfunded institutions in the world. When you mix these weak institutions with high levels of corruption it creates a situation where public services are desperately gasping for air. While all three countries are considered to be some of the most corrupted in the world, Honduras remains extremely volatile following a 2009 coup and a strongly contested presidential election in 2017. Roughly 95% of crimes are said to go unpunished in some areas. Police and military in both El Salvador and Guatemala were accused of widespread human rights violations during both civil wars. On top of the extreme violence, Salvadorans and Hondurans are estimated to pay between $61 million and $390 million in annual extortion fees to organized crimes groups. Those behind the extortion often target public transportation operators, small businesses and those living in low-income areas. Those who refuse to pay the extortion fees are met with extreme violence.

How Dangerous Is The Journey To America

The journey from the Northern Triangle clearly has dangerous of its own. Just days before Ramírez and Valeria were found dead, two women and three children were found dead near the edge of the Rio Grande just outside of McAllen, Texas. Death is a regularity in the journey to America along the southwestern border. Migrant deaths normally occur from the harsh desert conditions, dehydration, heat stroke, or hypothermia. Most of the time those found dead are either men or unaccompanied teenagers. Finding three children dead together is rare along the American border.

The dangerous desert conditions are not the only thing concerning for those trying to enter America. Dangerous cartels such as the Los Zetas have been known to target migrants traveling to America. The Zetas are known to run a large majority of the human trafficking occurring at the southern border. Last November it was believed the Zetas were behind the kidnapping of around 100 migrants in Puebla, Mexico while trying to reach Mexico City from Veracruz. The area is known for an extremely bloody feud between the Zetas and the Jalisco New Generation. The Zetas were formed by ex-Mexican Special Forces to act as a mercenary group for the Gulf Cartel. The Zetas inevitably turned against the Gulf Cartel and became their own group.

The Zetas have a long and violent history of targeting migrants. They are known for taking migrant caravans and other travelers ransom. In 2011 the Zetas were behind the San Fernando Massacre. The group rounded up 193 migrants then executed them 100 miles from the U.S. border. Local police in San Fernando were said to have helped the Zetas with the massacre. In another mass shooting, the gang marched 72 people to a farm and shot them one at a time in the back. Only two people survived the attack. It is believed at least 20,000 migrants are ransomed every year by organizations such as the Zetas and three out of five women and girls are raped during their journey to America.

If a migrant reaches the American border they are still not out of harm’s way. As the Trump administration scrambles to fix serious issues stemming from their recent change of enforcement policies at the southern border, more horror stories are coming out of detainment centers run by privatized prison companies such as Geo Group and Core Civic. Migrants are reportedly receiving inhumane treatment within many of these detainment centers. Recently lawyers from the Trump administration argued against providing children with soap and toothbrushes. Along with unsanitary conditions, there are also growing reports of migrants being sexually assaulted inside these detainment centers. Deaths of children and adults have been reported within these detainment centers.

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