'I told him not to' go: Mother of migrant man who drowned alongside daughter at Southern border

PHOTO:Rosa Ramirez, mother of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande River with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., is pictured at her house in the Altavista in San Martin, El Salvador, June 26, 2019.PlayJose Cabezas/Reuters
WATCH Image of migrant father, daughter emphasize human cost of US policy at Mexico border

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The mother of a Salvadoran man who drowned with his young daughter while trying to reach U.S. soil, becoming a global symbol of the perils of migration, said she urged her son not to leave, fearing danger would meet him on the long journey north.

PHOTO:Rosa Ramirez, mother of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande River with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., is pictured at her house in the Altavista in San Martin, El Salvador, June 26, 2019. Jose Cabezas/Reuters
PHOTO:Rosa Ramirez, mother of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande River with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., is pictured at her house in the Altavista in San Martin, El Salvador, June 26, 2019.

A harrowing photograph of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his toddler daughter Valeria lying face down on the banks of the Rio Grande river between the United States and Mexico ricocheted across social media this week and renewed debate in the United States about the plight of Central American migrants.

Speaking with Reuters from her home in the central municipality of San Martin, Rosa Ramirez, Oscar's mother, cradled two of her granddaughter's most treasured toys, a blue-eyed baby doll and a stuffed purple monkey. Her friends have urged her to store her son and granddaughter's belongings, but she is not ready for that yet.

PHOTO:Dolls are pictured at the house of Rosa Ramirez, mother of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande River with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., in the Altavista, El Salvador June 26, 2019. Jose Cabezas/Reuters
PHOTO:Dolls are pictured at the house of Rosa Ramirez, mother of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande River with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., in the Altavista, El Salvador June 26, 2019.

"Ever since he first told me that they wanted to go, I told him not to," Ramirez said, recalling conversations with her son.

"I had a feeling, it was such an ugly premonition. As a mother, I sensed that something could happen."

PHOTO: The Rio Grande, near the location where the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria were found after they drowned in Matamoros, Mexico, June 26, 2019. Loren Elliott/Reuters
The Rio Grande, near the location where the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria were found after they drowned in Matamoros, Mexico, June 26, 2019.

Despite his mother's pleas, Oscar and his family left El Salvador in April, hoping to find work in the United States and eventually buy a house, Ramirez said.

"That was his dream, a good future for his family," Ramirez said.

Exasperated by the wait to apply for asylum, the family attempted to swim to U.S. soil on Sunday, an immigration official in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas said.

Tania Vanessa Avalos, Oscar's wife, survived, screaming "Where is my husband?" as rescue workers at the river bank carried away a stretcher covered with a white sheet, video images show.

PHOTO: Salvadoran migrant Tania Avalos sits during a search for her husband Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and her daughter Valeria in Matamoros, Mexico, June 23, 2019. Alejandro Hernandez/Expreso de Matamoros via Reuters
Salvadoran migrant Tania Avalos sits during a search for her husband Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and her daughter Valeria in Matamoros, Mexico, June 23, 2019.

The photograph of Oscar and Valeria, nestled beside her father with her arm draped around his neck, drew comparisons to an iconic 2015 shot of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee, whose body washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean.

"It's astonishing to see this photo," Ramirez said, reflecting on the image of her son and granddaughter. "He never let her go. You can see how he protected her."

PHOTO:The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria lie in the Rio Bravo river in Matamoros, Mexico June 24, 2019. Reuters
PHOTO:The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria lie in the Rio Bravo river in Matamoros, Mexico June 24, 2019.

The U.N. refugee agency said the photo from the U.S. border represents "a failure to address the violence and desperation pushing people to take journeys of danger."

PHOTO:Tania Avalos, wife of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande river with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., is seen at the morgue in Matamoros, Mexico June 26, 2019. Carlos Jasso/Reuters
PHOTO:Tania Avalos, wife of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande river with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., is seen at the morgue in Matamoros, Mexico June 26, 2019.

Pope Francis expressed great sorrow upon viewing the image, said the Vatican, whose newspaper published the photograph on its front page.

Many asylum seekers at the border flee their homes in Central America to escape high levels of criminal violence.

Migrants such as Oscar and his daughter face long waits to apply for asylum at the United States' shared border with Mexico as U.S. officials enforce a policy of "metering," which limits the number of people who can apply each day.

That system has contributed to growing numbers of migrants crossing the border illegally to hand themselves into authorities and ask for asylum.

PHOTO: The body of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande river with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., is seen coming out of the morgue in Matamoros, Mexico June 26, 2019. Carlos Jasso/Reuters
The body of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande river with his daughter Valeria during their journey to the U.S., is seen coming out of the morgue in Matamoros, Mexico June 26, 2019.

Mexican officials pledged to do more to halt the flow of migrants to the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to slap tariffs on the country's exports this month unless it tightened procedures.

The perils of the journey weighed heavily on Ramirez as Oscar and his young family set off for the United States, she said. Now, she said, her primary concern is bringing their bodies back home.

U.S. officials told Congress on Wednesday that they did not have adequate staffing and facilities to handle the surge of migrants seeking asylum and made it harder to intercept drug smuggling and staff customs operations at ports of entry.

Writing by Julia Love, Reporting by Nelson Renteria