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In our opinion: Drowned migrants photo should galvanize lawmakers, not weaponize the immigration issue

Rosa Ramirez cries when shown a photograph printed from social media of her son Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez, 25, granddaughter Valeria, nearly 2, and her daughter-in-law Tania Vanessa Avalos, 21, while speaking to journalists at her home in San Martin,
Rosa Ramirez cries when shown a photograph printed from social media of her son Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez, 25, granddaughter Valeria, nearly 2, and her daughter-in-law Tania Vanessa Avalos, 21, while speaking to journalists at her home in San Martin, El Salvador, Tuesday, June 25. The drowned bodies of her son and granddaughter were located Monday morning on the banks of the Rio Grande, a day after the pair were swept away by the current when the young family tried to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Her daughter-in-law survived.
Antonio Valladares, AP

Editor's note: This editorial contains a graphic photo.

The harrowing photo has been impossible to miss: A Salvadoran father and daughter washed up on the banks of the Rio Grande, lying in the same position they assumed when they launched from the Mexico shore with the U.S. side in their sights.

The image has reverberated around social media and filled the frames of every major news network. But will it finally be enough to galvanize lawmakers to address the crisis at the southern border, or will it be just another weapon in an endless political war on the wedge issue of immigration?

For the sake of all those making desperate flights for freedom, we hope it’s the former.

The image is hard to take in. In a way it’s more than a drowned father and his child — it encapsulates the risks taken by all those escaping violence and persecution in search of a better life.

The two were part of a family seeking asylum at the southern border. When they arrived last weekend and learned the international bridge would be closed until Monday, they found what they thought to be a suitable spot for a river crossing. Then the currents picked up, and the mother swam back while the river swept away an exhausted Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his not-quite 2-year-old daughter.

That it took such a photo to ignite debate in the nation’s capital is a sad commentary on the state of our legislative affairs. Nevertheless, it’s right that lawmakers are talking. Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson told his committee, “I don’t want to see another picture like that on the U.S. border.” He later added, “We need to start doing something, it’s well past time. … I hope that picture alone will catalyze this Congress, this Senate, this Committee, to do something.”

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, June 24, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Martine
The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, June 24, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Martinez' wife, Tania told Mexican authorities she watched her husband and child disappear in the strong current.
Julia Le Duc, AP

Meanwhile on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer weaponized the image to blame the president. “We can do something about this if the president would stop playing all the political game of blame, blame, blame,” he said. “The president’s actions at the border are a whirlwind of incompetence, leading to pictures like this.”

We, too, are disgruntled with how the White House has handled the spike of families seeking asylum at the border. But the unfortunate truth for the minority leader is Congress has had every opportunity to fund border operations and collaborate on comprehensive immigration reform, including streamlining rules for asylum seekers and expediting their claims. Wherever the fingers point, the fact is both parties in both chambers have failed to execute their constitutional duties.

To echo Sen. Johnson, now is the time to act. The Senate just passed a $4.6 billion funding package for the border, and the House has its own version. The two chambers should immediately convene to hash out the differences and at least send money to quell immediate needs.

Next, they should double down on comprehensive reforms that prioritize both compassion and the rule of law. It’s perfectly reasonable — and desirable — to have a secure border while treating immigrants as the humans they are. A well-crafted show of bipartisanship that supports these principles would be hard for the president to turn down.

Anything less and the country will continue to slosh through a bog of disparate immigration policies that tarnish America’s reputation as a beacon of hope and liberty. If the photo sends no other message to lawmakers, let it be this: Galvanize, don’t weaponize.