This week, a haunting portrait of desperation shook the world. The lifeless bodies of Oscar Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria clinging onto each other became another stark symbol of an immigration crisis.
:: Warning distressing images below
Despite a crackdown at the US-Mexico border, migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have been taking more perilous routes, determined to build better lives for themselves in America – many fleeing persecution and poverty.
In the small neighbourhood of Altavista in San Martin, a family beset by tragedy has had to contend with others telling and sharing their tragedy. In a small, brightly coloured house I meet Rosa Ramirez, the grieving mother of Oscar, tears streaming down her face with her family surrounding her.
She reflects on the photograph seared in so many minds, one that will never leave her.
“It was something that completely destroyed me. It broke my heart. What I’m going through isn’t easy. Nobody deserved this. Believe me, nobody deserved this, what we’re going through at the moment.”
This neighbourhood is filled with families. Children play on the streets, ice-cream vendors toot their horns. It is also an area, like so much of the capital San Salvador, controlled by gangs. I was here a year ago and witnessed the bloody aftermath of murders carried out in broad daylight and interviewed MS13 members who spoke of ritual executions.
But Rosa says her 25-year-old son didn’t leave El Salvador to escape violence.
She said: “His dream was to buy a house. That was his dream. To buy a house for his wife and his daughter.
“I’ll always remember him as a good father, a good son… He was responsible, in all senses of the word.”
Her little granddaughter, she said, was “a happy, intelligent girl”.
“I’ll never be the same. It leaves a hole that nobody can fill,” she added.
Her daughter Wendy holds her knee as it shakes. Her furrowed brow lifts to reveal a wide smile though when I ask what Oscar was like as a brother.
She said: “He was excellent. We got on really well. Yes of course we’d fight about things as brothers and sisters do. We weren’t jealous of each other, never. We would share everything with each other, even secrets.”
When I was last here, I spoke to deportees, arriving back on planes at San Salvador Airport after being stopped by US and Mexican authorities. They described violence, rape and extreme dehydration on route.
Last July, I spent weeks following the caravan, watching mothers carrying newborn babies in searing heat with no guarantee of food or medicine. I have a seven-month-old son and the thought of feeling desperate enough to make that journey terrified me.
Like so many, my jaw dropped, my heart sunk and my eyes watered as I saw the image of little Valeria in all her fragility and innocence clinging onto her father. They captured a crisis. But will they be enough to spark a solution. I fear not. America’s president, supported by many voters wants to stop the stem of migrants crossing. Those same migrants are determined they will keep trying – even if that means risking it all to get there.
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