In the Aftermath of The Photo

Steve Russell
6 min readJun 26, 2019
Rio Grande Winds Through the Chihuahuan Desert Public Domain Photo on Pixabay

Is the United States Becoming a Rogue Nation?

Unless you live under a rock, you saw the photo — -the same one I saw, the one that set my stomach churning even worse than those of the filthy conditions in our kiddie jails, yours and mine. We also own that picture: Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his almost two year old daughter, Valeria, face down where their bodies washed up. In death, the baby’s arm was still around her father.

I would show you the photo if the copyright laws allowed it. It’s all over Fake News: CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times. You can bet it’s all over Europe as well, and the countries that mean us ill will keep it around to illustrate our president’s crazed tweets on immigration. Remember the “caravans” that required a military response the day before the election and evaporated as the votes were being counted?

Those who accept the task of apologizing for the photo will claim the fault lies with the dead man who fled El Salvador with his family and chose to die in the river between Matamoros, Tamaulipas and Brownsville, Texas. He died trying to break U.S. law.

There are so many things wrong with that rationalization of palpable evil it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’ve lived in the borderlands most of my adult life and I have crossed between Brownsville and Matamoros many times and my gut level reaction to the false claims about the dead man is let them be true and I don’t care.

Valeria came within a month of seeing two candles on her birthday cake if they had birthday cakes in our kiddie jails…but if they don’t have soap or toothbrushes, cake is out of the question. The Trump administration no doubt employs lots of people willing to tell Central American refugees to eat that non-existent cake.

The fundamental lie in the rationalization of the photo is that the family was not on the wrong side of U.S. law; Mr. Trump’s border guards were. The deceased refugee presented his family at the border crossing to turn himself over to the authorities and press a claim for political asylum. That claim is proper under U.S. law and that is the proper way to present it. The family was turned away.

Suppose the claim that the deceased refugee violated U.S. law were correct. Unlawful entry is a…

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)