A Trump administration immigration official has blamed a migrant father for his own drowning death and that of his young daughter, which was captured in widely circulated images that highlight the peril and desperation faced by migrant families blocked from entering the US at the border with Mexico.
Ken Cuccinelli was named earlier this month as acting head of US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), the agency that handles immigration administration.
He told CNN he was not concerned the photo would become emblematic of the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policy.
“The reason we have tragedies like that on the border is because that father didn’t wait to go through the asylum process in the legal fashion and decided to cross the river and not only died but his daughter died tragically as well,” Cuccinelli said on Thursday night.
The photographs, taken on Monday, show Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 26, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria lying face down in shallow water after dying in the Rio Grande, the river that divides Mexico from Texas.
The image has been compared to the 2015 image of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned off the Greek island of Kos after being en route there with other refugees fleeing conflict.
As part of a broader crackdown on migration, the Trump administration has further restricted asylum and the backlog of legal cases.