Photo of Migrants Shocks, but Congress Stalls on Border Aid
WASHINGTON — A photograph of a migrant father and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down on the muddy bank of the Rio Grande added an emotional charge on Wednesday to the immigration policy debate consuming Washington.
The image of the tiny girl, tucked into her father’s shirt, her right arm draped around his neck, seemed to crystallize the human tragedy playing out at the border, and it was everywhere: on cable channels, the internet, where the usual political warfare was for a moment tempered by sadness, and on the Senate floor, where the chamber’s top Democrat forced colleagues to confront a blown-up copy of the photo.
“President Trump, I want you to look at this photo,” said the minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. “These are not drug dealers or vagrants or criminals; they are people simply fleeing a horrible situation.”
But the picture did little to narrow the partisan divide over immigration policy, or even a more immediate dispute in Congress over a package of humanitarian aid that Mr. Trump has requested to fund strapped immigration agencies dealing with a crush of migrants.
The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a $4.6 billion emergency spending package to address the crisis, but only after rejecting a House-passed version drafted by Democrats deeply opposed to the president’s immigration agenda, which included many restrictions on how the money could be spent.
The House, in turn, planned to take action on Thursday to insist that some of its conditions of the funding be upheld. That set up a stalemate over the funding, and Democrats’ insistence that the White House bow to new restrictions on its authority to secure it.
The photo of the migrant father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his daughter Valeria came at a time of mounting concern about the treatment of children at border facilities, which have been overwhelmed by the largest number of families entering the United States in more than a decade.
At one station in Texas, more than 250 children were detained for weeks without access to soap or clothing or adequate food. A group of lawyers have said they saw young children caring for infants in the facility.
Lawmakers who are deeply opposed to Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda argued that the picture of the dead father and daughter was an implied rebuke of the president’s immigration policies, which include the practice of “metering,” placing strict limits on the number of migrants who are allowed to present themselves at the border, and a new program mandating that many asylum seekers stay in Mexico as they await their asylum claims to be processed.
“I watched young kids being turned away, and then having to go to and cross at all these terrible points,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, who visited the border between San Diego and Tijuana in December. “The reason we have this big buildup of people at the border is because of metering, because we’re slow-walking processing of asylum seekers, because we have a ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, because we’ve cut aid to Central American countries.”
Ms. Jayapal said she worried that the tragic image would only fuel a stampede, encouraged by Mr. Trump, to approve new spending at the border that would do nothing to alleviate the suffering, and potentially aggravate it.
“To say that this money would have prevented that kid and father from dying, which is so horrible, is just not true,” she said. “They’re trying to use the humanitarian crisis that they’ve created, and these conditions that they have allowed to happen, to get more money for things that we know we don’t want to fund.”
[Our editors discuss why they decided to publish the image.]
But in their public remarks, sometimes through tears, both Republicans and Democrats argued that the photograph was a pivotal call to action, and an important reminder of the stakes of the immigration debate. Many of them noted that the picture, while disturbing, showed what has become a grim and all-too-common reality on the border.
Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, whose El Paso district lies along the border, urged people not to look away.
“The horror is daily for us,” she said. “As heartbreaking and heart-wrenching as that photograph is — the world needs to see that.”
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security and Gove