Last week, an impactful image of a dead father and daughter drowned in the Rio Grande River circulated the internet and media to great shock and outrage. The image, according to Zack Beauchamp writing for Vox, is “what nativism looks like” and represents the physical embodiment of the nativism that animates the Trump administration’s approach to immigration. The iconic image of the Trump administration’s hardline policy at the southern border shows Salvadorians Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Valeria, who were attempting to enter the United States to exercise their legal right to seek asylum.
According to Beauchamp “Nativism is, at its core, a proposition about what kinds of people matter….that a happenstance of birth means that the US government is not required to treat non-citizens as humans with the same intrinsic moral worth as citizens.” The Trump administration has engaged in policies that are designed to limit migration, both legal and undocumented, without much attention to the humanitarian consequences. In the US, people can seek asylum in two ways: by presenting themselves at a port of entry, or by crossing the border illegally, then turning themselves into Border Patrol. Recently, Trump has put severe pressure on Mexico’s president to prohibit migrants from Central America to cross the US/Mexico border. As a response, the Mexican government has built its own camps along the border, but much like the ones on the US side, they are overcrowded and have a lack of resources, according to detainees, lawyers, and rights groups.
Whether it is policy about how to handle migrants who have already entered the country, or policy surrounding the amount of migrant entries into the United States, or “metering”, ideologically, the two policies represent the same thing: an administration’s harsh attempt to reduce the number of migrants entering the US. Responding to the image of the drowned father and daughter, Ken Cuccinelli, one of President Trump’s top immigration officials who serves as the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), reportedly “appeared to blame the father who drowned” in a recent interview. In a previously issued written statement, Cuccinelli stated: “Our nation has the most generous legal immigration system in the world and we must zealously safeguard its promise for those who lawfully come here.”
Others, like Beauchamp, argue that it was predictable that the administration’s policies would ultimately degenerate into a humanitarian nightmare and unfortunately, that it was similarly predictable that some of the migrants stuck in Mexican camps waiting to cross legally to the US would become desperate given the circumstances and die in the attempt to cross without documentation.