BY ISN STAFF | August 25, 2020

Last week, Edwin Rodrigo, a 20-year-old Guatemalan leader of a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, drowned trying to save pregnant women who had been struggling to cross the river. He could not swim. Over 1,000 people are forced to live in the camp in Matamoros while awaiting their asylum hearings under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. 

Tents in the Matamoros migrant camp in December 2019. 

Rodrigo leaves behind a pregnant wife, a young child, and many other mourners. Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, posted on Facebook:

Tonight the camp mourns! The Rio Grande has taken another life. A 20 yr old father from the refugee camp in Matamoros drowned today. Everyone at the camp is hurting! crying that their friend, their buddy, their brother, their grandson, their husband, their dad is gone. the young wife & baby he left behind cry unconsolable with unbelief that he is gone. Everyone asks “what happened? Was he trying to cross the river?” But he wasn’t. Everyone knew he can’t swim. He got close to see some pregnant women who were attempting to cross the river & he heard one scream and thought she needed help. then suddenly he is gone. He fell into the river? All there is, is silence & tears. El rio bravo se convierte en el rio de sangre! muchas vidas ya a tomado. Que triste que trágicamente inocente víctimas que buscan la vida encuentran la muerte. cuantas más vidas para que termine esta tragedia que continuamente está ocurriendo por ya más de un año causada por MPP. Everyone at the refugee camp will not sleep tonight because tonight everyone cries. Tonight we mourn with them.

A New York Times Magazine article, written with help from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, talks about the life and autopsy of Roberto Primero Luis, another Guatemalan man who journeyed north to seek a better future for his family. Of Achí descent, Roberto was a talented barber and the son of an evangelical pastor, as well as a husband and father. His child was born while he traveled to the United States; they never met. The article reviews how U.S. border militarization expanded under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and created the conditions that caused so many deaths of people seeking a better life:

As migrants have sought out increasingly remote routes through the desert, more of them have died. This is a fact not seriously disputed by anyone familiar with the problem, including the Border Patrol. But if we are to look at these deaths as the Pima County pathologists do, as a kind of slow-motion epidemic, we must label the desert a proximate, not an ultimate, cause. There are various ultimate causes, but perhaps the plainest, certainly the most traceable, is federal policy. Confronted with images of holding pens and parentless children, it would be easy to assume the policy began with President Trump, the latest face of a revived—though hardly new—American hostility toward migrants. In fact, it has been in place through four presidential administrations.

“Inhumane immigration policies and border militarization continue to cause senseless deaths,” said José Arnulfo Cabrera, director of education and advocacy for migration for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. “We stand with our partners on the U.S.-Mexico border, with the families of those lost, and with all who migrate in mourning the lives of Edwin, Roberto, and all who have died or suffered due to the policies of our government which put lives at risk. As people of faith who believe in the inherent dignity of all people, we call on the U.S. government to end the practice of blocking asylum seekers from protection on our border.”

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