Man drowned alongside his 23-month-old daughter while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas

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Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria were swept away by the current near Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, this week. The grim photo shows the girl tucked inside her father's shirt for protection with her arm draped over his neck — an image that underscores the dangers migrants and asylum-seekers face trying to make it to the United States and the desperate measures they resort to in the face of policies designed to deter them.

"It's tough, it's kind of shocking, that image," the 25-year-old man's mother, Rosa Ramírez, told The Associated Press. "But at the same time, it fills me with tenderness. I feel so many things, because at no time did he let go of her."

Ramírez had shared a sea-green brick home with barred windows in San Martin on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador, with her son, his 21-year-old wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos and their daughter until the young family decided to make the journey north.

In their working-class neighborhood of about 40,000, Martínez worked in a pizzeria and Ávalos as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant, Ramírez said.

The area has had problems with gang violence but these days it's calm, she said, adding that he never had any problems with gangs — they left for economic reasons.

Ramírez said that she had given them the big room in the two-bedroom house, but they dreamed of saving money for a place of their own and that drove the family to head for the United States in early April.

"I told him, 'Son, don't go. But if you do go, leave me the girl,'" Ramírez said.

"'No, mamá,'" she said he replied. "'How can you think that I would leave her?'"

Now she feels a hole that "nobody can fill, but God gives me strength," she said.

Marta Argueta de Andrade, their 50-year-old neighbor, said she met the family about five years ago. She described them as "good people," and Martínez as an easygoing young man.

"I would see him walking with the girl. I called her 'little curly one,'" Argueta said. "She was very pretty."

"I would say to those who are thinking of migrating, they should think it over because not everyone can live that American dream you hear about," Ramírez said.

"We can put up a fight here," she added. "How much I would like to have my son and my granddaughter here. One way or another, we get by in our country."

The U.S.-Mexico border region has long been perilous for those trying to cross illegally into the United States between ports of entry, from the fast-moving Rio Grande to the scalding Sonoran Desert. A total of 283 people died while trying to cross last year; figures for 2019 have not yet been released.

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