U.S. Bishops Urge Government to Do Better on Migration

Geneva, 2 July 2019 - “We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in immense sadness, having seen the horrific images of Oscar Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria who drowned in the Rio Grande Valley while attempting to flee persecution and enter the United States.”

The death of Oscar Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter Angie Valeria is one of a series of recent tragic incidents faced by families fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. Photo: A migrant from Central America who has joined a migrant caravan on its way to the United States holds his infant child, Chiapas, Mexico. © Rafael Rodríguez / IOM. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCBB) and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration released a joint statement expressing shock and sorrow at the unnecessary deaths at the U.S. border and calling on the government to hear the cry of the poor and vulnerable.

Pope Francis had previously voiced the same concerns. “The Pope is profoundly saddened by their death, and is praying for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery,” said the Holy See Press Office in a 26 June statement.

The picture of Oscar Martinez and his baby daughter Angie Valeria, face down in the shallow waters of the Rio Grande river marking the border between Mexico and the United States, is the last in a series of tragic incidents faced by people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. “This image cries to heaven for justice. This image silences politics,” said the U.S. bishops. 

Oscar, his wife Vanessa and their 23-month old child Angie Valeria fled El Salvador hoping to reach safety in the United States. Upon learning that submitting an asylum claim could take several weeks, the family decided to swim across the Rio Grande river. Oscar first brought his daughter to the other side and then went back to help his wife. As he crossed back, the baby daughter entered the water again. Oscar turned back to assist her, the current overtook them and they both drowned.

“Sadly, this picture shows the daily plight of our brothers and sisters. Not only does their cry reach heaven. It reaches us. And it must now reach our federal government. […]  We can and must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence, persecution, and acute poverty,” reads the USCCB statement.

The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border has been tense for months after the U.S. administration tightened asylum laws and reduced the number of people allowed to claim asylum each day. People now have to wait for long periods before they can start their asylum process, which leads many to attempt more dangerous journeys. Dozens of people have already died this year trying to cross the Rio Grande river. 

The statement further urges the government to do more and do better on managing migration at the border. “Congress has a duty to provide additional funding to address the needs of children in federal custody. […] It is possible and necessary to care for the safety of migrant children and the security of our citizens. By putting aside partisan interests, a nation as great as ours is able to do both.”