Vigils Held Across Border Towns For Death Of Salvadoran Father And Daughter On Sunday evening, vigils took place in border towns to remember a father and daughter who died last week attempting to cross over to the United States rather than waiting in migrant camps in Mexico.
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Border Community Remembers A Father And Daughter Who Drowned Crossing The Rio Grande

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Border Community Remembers A Father And Daughter Who Drowned Crossing The Rio Grande

Border Community Remembers A Father And Daughter Who Drowned Crossing The Rio Grande

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For many people, a single image has come to symbolize the struggles of migrants heading for the United States border - the image of two bodies face down in the Rio Grande, a Salvadoran father and his daughter. Residents in Texas's Rio Grande Valley held vigils last night to remember the lives of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Angie Valeria. Texas Public Radio's Reynaldo Leanos Jr. was at one of the vigils in Brownsville.

REYNALDO LEANOS JR, BYLINE: People from across the Rio Grande Valley begin arriving at Hope Park to honor the lives of Oscar and Valeria. It's about a mile from where their bodies were found. Photos of the family rest on a table. People hold signs and candles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOYCE HAMILTON: Hi, everyone. I'm Joyce, and I'm with Angry Tias and Abuelas. On the way here tonight, all I could think was, there's no way I can talk tonight because this whole past week has just been so crushing.

LEANOS: Organizations like Joyce's, made up of aunts and grandmothers, help migrants in Mexico and in the U.S. by providing food, water, clothes and assistance. They and others helped put together the vigil. Gabriela Zavala, the executive director of a respite center at a local church, addresses a crowd about the father and daughter whose deaths they are gathered to remember.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GABRIELA ZAVALA: We only know a few things about them, but we do know this - we know that they, like many immigrants before them and many immigrants after them, made the ultimate sacrifice to leave their countries behind and brave a dangerous trek in search of safety, security and a better life.

LEANOS: Zavala says their deaths were the result of a failed immigration system and called on the community to demand for their elected officials better representation for the needs of all at the border.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZAVALA: Demand that they help us end family separation and detention, and that they hold our leaders accountable for terrible policymaking, policies like metering, that keeps our asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico, despite the knowledge that they undergo very bad treatment, and that the conditions are terrible.

LEANOS: Across from Brownsville in Matamoros, a Honduran woman named Xiomara is waiting with her family in a makeshift camping area. Her family have been put on a list managed by Mexican immigration officials who coordinate with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Only a few, if any, are allowed into the U.S. every week for processing, a practice known as metering. She asked to go by her first name because she fears speaking out will hurt her claim for asylum.

XIOMARA: (Speaking Spanish).

LEANOS: Xiomara says they came here and asked her for information about the infamous list. She says she met Oscar, his wife Tania Vanessa Avalos and their daughter Valeria hours before the deaths. She says they were surprised when she told them she'd been waiting for more than two months.

Xiomara says Oscar asked her if she had ever thought about crossing the river, but she told him no. He then told her they would come back on Monday so they could try to be added to the list. The next day she heard about the death of the father and daughter from two Peruvians who had also been waiting to claim asylum.

XIOMARA: (Speaking Spanish).

LEANOS: Xiomara says she never thought it would be Oscar and Valeria. Their bodies were found on Monday. She says they were a beautiful family. Xiomara and her family are now No. 3 on the list, but she thinks she'll be in Mexico for at least another two weeks until she's finally allowed into the U.S. into a processing facility. At the vigil, Zavala's rallying cry resounds among those in the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZAVALA: And something else that helps me get through this tragedy is that the deaths of Oscar and Valeria will not go in vain.

LEANOS: For NPR News, I'm Reynaldo Leanos Jr. in Brownsville, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLAFUR ARNALDS' "MOMENTARY")

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