The widow of a man who drowned in the Rio Grande on Sunday with their toddler daughter has revealed that he told her they would safely make the crossing and not to worry about it.
Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, is now preparing to fly home to El Salvador with the bodies of her husband Oscar, 25, and their daughter Valeria, 22-months, who drowned on Sunday.
A photograph of their bodies floating lifeless in the river bank shocked the world after they were discovered on Monday and has since been used as a symbol of the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the border.
The young family of three left their home in El Salvador on April 3 in search of a better life.
Scroll down for video
Tania Avalos, the girl’s mother and Oscar’s wife, is shown leaving the morgue in Matamoros on Wednesday (right). She has since told
Oscar had tucked Valeria into his t-shirt to stop her from drifting away from him. He had dropped her on the US side of the Rio Grande and had turned back to get Tania, still on the Mexican side, but Valeria jumped into the water after him and the pair were swept away
They traveled through Guatemala to Mexico, and spent two months in a migrant camp in southern Mexico before boarding a bus to get to the US border on Sunday.
When they arrived, they went to the international bridge, hoping for an appointment with US border officials, but were told they would have to wait until the office was open.
With hundreds of others in front of them, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
Valeria and Oscar crossed first and he got her safely to the US side of the river but then he turned around for his wife. The little girl jumped in after her father and they were swept away by a current.
Tania told local outlet PubliMetro on Wednesday how they had become so desperate after running out of the little money they had.
‘Óscar wanted us to cross. [He wanted to] find a job there, him being able to give our daughter Valeria a better life. But the river dragged them, swallowed them.
‘We were already desperate, we ran out of the little money we brought.
‘Processing at the United States immigration [center] is slow and they placed more requirements. They did not call us. We went to the bridge [border crossing], to the United States offices, and they turned us away, that they would call us, but nothing,’ she said.
‘That’s why on Sunday, Óscar told me we already had to cross the river, to have confidence, faith that nothing would happen.
‘He took Valeria in the arms and we stepped in holding on to a rope, but the waters began to drag us.
The family arrived in Matamoros on Sunday after boarding a bus in southern Mexico. They went straight to the International Bridge and tried to get an appointment to discuss their asylum case but it was closed and they learned there were hundreds of people in front of them so they tried to cross themselves and were swept away
Valeria’s mother Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, left, had quit her job in a Chinese restaurant to look after her full time
‘Óscar held the girl with one arm, but he could not hold on and let go,’ she said.
Oscar’s brother, Carlos, has since told how he begged his brother not to attempt it.
‘Don’t risk crossing the river with the girl, I told him, it’s very dangerous, that river is very bad.
‘He didn’t listen to me, unfortunately what happened happened. May my brother and my niece rest in peace,’ he told AFP.
Other migrants who they met have also told how they warned them not to cross.
Xiomara Mejia, a migrant from Honduras, who saw them approach the water, said: ‘I noticed they were really nervous, scared.
‘They said to me, “You haven’t tried to cross the river?”
‘We said to them, “No, because of the children more than anything. I don’t know how to swim and my kids do, but either way I’m not going to risk it,”‘ she said.
She and her family have been waiting for a visa appointment since May 8.
Their deaths were a hot topic at Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential candidate debate.
Their mother, Rosa, said she was haunted by the image but that it also showed ‘tenderness’.
Valeria died with her arm wrapped around her father’s neck, proof that she was clinging on to him until her final moments.
Valeria was safely carried to the US side of the river but when she saw her father re-enter the water, she jumped in after him
The bodies are shown being removed from the Rio Grande on Monday
He had tucked her into his t-shirt to stop her from drifting away from him.
Oscar worked at a Papa Johns pizza restaurant, where he was earning $350 a month.
They lived off his wage, limiting themselves to $10-a-day, because Tania had already quit her job as a cashier in a Chinese restaurant to care for Valeria, their only child.
The family lived with her mother in a housing complex in Altavista.
They were not fleeing violence, Tania’s mother has since said, but were in desperate search of a life where they could earn more.
Their plan was to spend a few years in America to save up enough money to eventually return to El Salvador and buy or build their own house.
‘I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home.
‘They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house,’ Rosa Ramirez, Oscar’s mother, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Determined to eventually get to the US, on April 3, they left El Salvador for Mexico.
Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and baby Valerie were swept away by the current while crossing from Matamoros, Mexico, into Texas. Their bodies are seen in a hearse at the morgue
There, they were granted a humanitarian visa in Tapachula, which would have allowed them to work for a year there while they awaited news of their asylum request in the US.
After two months in southern Mexico with no prospect of entering the US legally, the family decided to make their way to the border to push their case forward.
According to Oscar’s parents, who were in constant contact with them when they were in Mexico, someone told him it would be ‘easy’ to cross illegally if they had to.
They boarded a bus to Matamoros and when they arrived on Sunday, went straight to the International Bridge to try to plead their case but were disheartened when they arrived to find the office closed because it was a weekend.
They were also told that they would likely have to wait weeks if not months for their appointment because so many other families were in front of them.
According to Julia Le Duc, the journalist who photographed their bodies, there are 300 people awaiting asylum interviews there and only three slots a week.
Desperate, they decided to try to cross themselves and made their way to the river bank.
Before their deaths, Oscar sent his mother a final text message. It said: ‘Mama, I love you. We’re fine here, look after yourselves.’
She has since described him as a ‘polite’.
His parents want their deaths to serve as a lesson for anyone who is thinking about crossing the border.
‘I hope that this serves as a lesson to everyone that crossing over is easy.
‘It’s not. It’s risking your lives,’ she told local media outlet La Prensa.