Warning: This story contains a graphic image that some may find disturbing.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday said a widely circulated photo of a drowned toddler holding onto her father after a deadly attempt to cross the Rio Grande into the United States underscored his call for Congress to enact stricter immigration laws.
“Well, that’s like I’ve been saying, if they fixed the laws you wouldn’t have that, people are coming up, they’re running through the Rio Grande,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the viral image of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, an asylum-seeker from El Salvador, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, who were found dead along the Southern border river on Monday.
Congressional Democrats — including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — said they hoped the photo would compel Trump to reconsider his hard-line immigration policies as both chambers of Congress attempt to reach an agreement on a $4.6 billion emergency border aid bill to address the influx of migrants amid reports of unsanitary and unsafe conditions at detention centers housing minors.
The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed the $4.6 billion supplemental appropriation 84-8, putting pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to scale back the House version that passed Tuesday night, which added conditions to how Trump could spend the funding including requiring the administration to develop health and safety protocols for detention centers.
Schumer, speaking from the Senate floor, in front of a poster-sized copy of the photo, argued that asylum-seekers might not make “the perilous journey” to the United States if Trump had backed a plan by Democrats to allow migrants to petition for asylum in their home country, and if the Trump administration “followed through on foreign aid to help stabilize their home country’s government.”
“How could President Trump look at this picture and not understand that these are human beings fleeing violence and persecution, willing to risk a perilous, sometimes failed journey in search of a better life,” Schumer said. “If our ports of entry were adequately staffed, we had enough asylum judges, and our asylum laws respected, they might not have perished. That is what is at stake."
Pelosi, who yesterday urged her caucus to approve the emergency funding, told The Associated Press: “This isn’t who we are as a country. We have obligations to humanity that are being completely ignored. This is a manifestation of behavior that is outside the circle of civilized human behavior.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said in a hearing on Wednesday: “I don’t want to see another picture like that on the U.S. border.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) jammed Democrats by taking up the House version of the border supplemental appropriation of $4.5 billion — which attached strings to how Trump could spend the money — knowing it would fail. The bill fell short of the 60 votes needed in a 37-55 vote.
Schumer immediately rose to the Senate floor and announced that Pelosi had called Trump and offered four changes to the House bill. A House aide confirmed the call.
But Schumer also said that he and most Senate Democrats would vote for the bipartisan Senate version that passed out of committee on a 30-1 vote.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the third-ranking House Republican, criticized Pelosi for playing politics with the border supplemental appropriation by choosing not to negotiate with the president when he requested the funds on May 1.
“She wanted to play politics and wanted to run the clock out and wait till the midnight hour. And now we're at the midnight hour,” Scalise said, with Congress set to leave Washington after Thursday for the Fourth of July recess.