It has been three weeks since Óscar Ramírez and his daughter Valeria drowned while crossing the Rio Grande, a tragedy indelibly documented in a photograph of their bodies floating in shallow water along the river bank, the child’s arm draped almost casually over her father’s shoulder. The image immediately drew comparisons to the photo of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in 2015, which is said to have heightened global awareness of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, a catastrophe already underway by the time Pope Francis visited the island of Lampedusa in 2013 to pray for migrants who’d died while crossing from northern Africa. It was assumed that the photo of Óscar and Valeria would have a similarly galvanizing effect in regard to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the southern border of the United States. “That these photos have such staying power in people’s memories proves a bleak rule,” Ashley Fetters wrote in the Atlantic on June 27. “When the public knows about an atrocity but doesn’t see it, it can feel vague or far away.”
Óscar and Valeria, who’d traveled 1,400 miles from their home in El Salvador, died on June 24. The photograph was disseminated widely on social media the next day and was mentioned a number of times during the first Democratic presidential debate that night; some of the candidates even spoke the names of the young father and his twenty-three-month old daughter. The night after that, at the second debate, the incident was not acknowledged at all, and since then, the specific tragedy of Óscar and Valeria’s deaths and the burst of attention and grief it generated have come to feel vague and far away, supplanted by the fresh offenses rolling daily off the administration’s unceasing assembly line of calculated malice.