In the race to the moon, we didn't have a chance

It is a photo that has reduced grown men to tears.

It is heartbreaking, appalling, shameful.

The photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, lying face down, dead, in the murky water of the Rio Grande River, has been seared onto the consciousness of every person with the misfortune to have seen it.

The photo has become the very image of the struggle to get a handle on America’s growing immigration crisis.

The El Salvadorian father and child drowned last month while trying to cross the river from Mexico into Texas not far from Brownsville.

They actually reached the Texas side and Oscar left his daughter standing on the shore, then turned around to go back for his wife. The child saw her father swimming away, however, and jumped in after him, according to an eyewitness. Martinez grabbed his daughter but a strong current swept them away, drowning them, all the while Tania, Oscar’s widow and Angie Valeria’s mom, stood on the Mexican shore watching her family dissolve before her eyes.

Like thousands of others, Martinez and his family were hoping for political asylum in the U.S., but they grew tired of the backlog of asylum seekers at the border and decided to take matters into their own hands.

These were neither criminals, nor drug dealers, nor rapists, nor murderers, as some have characterized the majority of migrants. This was a young family, tired of living with his mother while he worked at his job in a pizzeria and wanting their own home.

They were driven by desperation, spurred on by a dream, seeking a new life in America, the land of dreams.

Put yourself in their shoes. What would you do to make a better life for your family, to protect them from gang violence, a shortage of clean water, a lack of adequate health care or the chance at a decent education?

Would you risk everything to protect them, to try and give them a chance at happiness? Darn right.

Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s brand-new president, took the blame for the deaths of Oscar and Angie Valeria, saying it was his job to make El Salvador a safer and better place.

The United States has to bear at least some of the blame, however. Last month the Trump administration cut millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, home to many of those seeking to reach the U.S. and escape violence and poverty in their native lands.

Just this week the president signed a $4.6 billion aid package to help the government cope with the border crisis, to better deal with the influx of asylum seekers. It would seem spending money on the front end in troubled countries like El Salvador would lessen the need to spend money on the back end to deal with a surge of immigrants from Central America.

We have got to get a handle on our immigration problem. The president’s long-promised wall won’t help, won’t keep out people who are desperate for a better life for themselves and their families.

If we reinstated aid to nations like El Salvador perhaps we could help make living there seem more attractive to their own citizens than making the long, arduous and dangerous journey to the United States.

This is a country of immigrants, always has been, always will be. The U.S. is still the land of opportunity, the land where dreams come true, so the stream of folks hoping to emigrate to this country may ease somewhat, but it will never fade completely.

Simply opening our borders to all those who would come to call America home is not a workable solution, the massive influx of new residents would overload our schools and health care system. It also would not be fair to those who worked so hard to come here legally.

But there must be a way we can speed up the process of considering asylum for those who are fleeing gangs, poor living conditions and crippling poverty.

And there must be a way to do it all the while sharing with those seeking to pursue their dreams in this country the milk of human kindness, rather than the back of our collective hand.

If we can’t, get ready to see many more photos like that of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his young daughter lying dead in shallow dirty water. The names and faces will change, but the story will remain the same.

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Mullin is an award-winning writer and columnist who recently retired after 41 years with the News & Eagle. Email him at

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I have been with the News & Eagle since 1976 and the Vance Airscoop editor since 2006.