In the past week, pictures have surfaced of a father and his young daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande while trying to cross over to the U.S. border.
Their lifeless bodies were found amongst trash and discarded beer cans. What an image of our country. As shocking and painful as it is, this isn't new. The group Border Angels estimates that since 1994, about 10,000 people have died in their attempt to cross the border. And according to a report by the New York Times, more people have died illegally crossing the southwestern border of the United States in the last 16 years than were killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina combined.
With the risks involved, it's really a wonder that anyone is still trying to do this, right? That's the "pull" of the United States and the so-called American dream. People trying to immigrate here are facing many push factors to leave their country, and there are many pull factors attracting them here.
The deaths of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, are heartbreaking. Alberto and his family tried to file for asylum, but after spending over two months living in a tent in a migrant camp, he grew frustrated and tried to cross the river. Think about how dire the situation they were living in must have been that he was willing to risk their lives to come here.
The image of their bodies is reminiscent of that of Alan Kurdi, also known as the "toddler in the sand".
Three-year-old Kurdi drowned in the Meditteranean Sea when his family tried to escape Syria and enter Europe. Now known as one of the 100 most influential photos of all time, Kurdi's lifeless body became a symbol for the European refugee crisis in 2015. But Kurdi is also just one of many. According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 1,500 refugees and migrants have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the first seven months of 2018. Refugees also died in smugglers' trucks as they attempted to immigrate due to heat, dehydration, and lack of food. The concept of immigration laws and human migration is not just a U.S. issue, it's a global one.
The United States is viewed as a country where you can achieve your dreams. And while that's true, we have many issues as well. I find it hard to be excited to celebrate the 4th of July when I know that there are American children and adults suffering due to poverty, hunger, drug abuse, and crime. I don't agree with the concept that currently seems to dominate our world: that where you are born decides your future.
In America, we are all about rising up and bettering ourselves through hard work and determination. This is the image we project and the philosophy that this country was built off of. Yet it is evident that is not always true. Some children can never crawl out of bad situations because poverty is a cycle. Immigrants coming to this country are looked down upon and viewed as a thing to be scared of. This xenophobic atmosphere is disturbing. Our nation was built on the backs of those who came from somewhere else. It grew stronger because of the immigrants coming here throughout the last three centuries.
And yet now, we're letting toddlers drown in our backyard.
So this 4th of July, while you are out enjoying your barbecue, remember there children in America who are food insecure. While you're laying by the pool, be glad you didn't have to cross a river to be here. While you're hanging out on a boat, be glad you didn't drown in the Mediterranean trying to escape a war-torn country.
While I can appreciate the privilege that comes from where I was born, I cannot celebrate a country that is turning a blind eye to its own negative aspects.
This is written in honor, respect, and memory of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Valeria. Of Alan Kurdi. Of Dilcy Yohan Sandres-Martinez. And of all the other thousands of immigrants who die yearly in the United States and globally.