WASHINGTON, United States—A shocking photograph of a Salvadoran man and his nearly 2-year-old daughter drowned in the Rio Grande River fueled angry Democratic denunciations on Wednesday of the Trump administration's immigration policies.
"Trump is responsible for these deaths," said Beto O'Rourke, one of several candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination who took to Twitter to lash out at President Donald Trump.
Trump retaliated by seeking to pin the blame on Democrats in Congress, saying "if we had the right laws, that the Democrats are not letting us have, those people wouldn't be coming up, they wouldn't be trying."
"They want to have open borders and open borders mean crime, and open borders mean people drowning in the rivers," Trump told reporters.
According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the intertwined bodies in the photo are those of asylum-seeker Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria.
They drowned on Sunday while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas from Mexico, La Jornada said.
For many, the photo evoked memories of a 2015 picture of a Syrian toddler drowned on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to reach Greece.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, another 2020 candidate, described the photo as "horrific."
"It is just one painful example of so many that demonstrate the reckless disregard for basic humanity that have come from Trump's policies," Sanders said.
O'Rourke said the Trump administration, by preventing refugees from asking for asylum at ports of entry, was causing families "to cross between ports, ensuring greater suffering and death."
"These families seeking asylum are often fleeing extreme violence," said California Senator Kamala Harris, who is also running for the White House.
"And what happens when they arrive?" Harris asked on Twitter. "Trump says 'Go back to where you came from.' That is inhumane. Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience."
Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from Michigan who has called for Trump's impeachment, also had harsh words for the president and his hard-line immigration policies.
"This monster and his heartless administration must be held accountable," Tlaib said in a tweet.
POPE SADDENED BY DEATHS
The New York Times published the photo on its front page and devoted an editorial to the picture.
"The United States needs an immigration policy that combines border security, justice and humanity," the Times said.
"No one with a conscience can look at the photo of an asylum seeker and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead on the bank of the Rio Grande and accept the status quo."
Among those who also reacted to the photo was Pope Francis.
"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 Alessandro Gisotti, a Vatican spokesman.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York displayed the picture on the Senate floor during a speech on Wednesday.
"How could President Trump look at this picture and not understand that these are human beings fleeing violence and persecution?" Schumer asked.
"We can do something about this if the president would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame," he said.
The photo comes amid a public outcry in the United States over the detention conditions of migrant children following a visit to a Border Patrol center in Clint, Texas by a group of lawyers and doctors.
"Children at Clint told us they don't have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn't been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don't have regular access to soap," said Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a Customs and Border Protection official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
Border Patrol officials have said they are being overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees seeking to cross into the United States.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 taken into custody in May alone.