McALLEN — Holding blown-out candles in a semicircle, a group of about 50 people gathered outside the McAllen Bus Station Sunday evening to pay respects for the migrants who died last week.
Speaking in front of the crowd, Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE, said people can not become accustomed to hearing about migrant deaths.
“We need to, in every way, be able to take action, to not put up with it,” Valdez-Cox said. “We can’t just say it’s another death. Enough is enough.”
Organized by LUPE, this candlelight vigil was held in honor of Oscar Alberto Martínez, 25, and his daughter Valeria, 23 months, from El Salvador who drowned in the Rio Grande. The vigil also honored a young woman who was found dead with three children last Sunday near the U.S.-Mexico border on the Gabrielson Land Tract, near Mission. Sources familiar with the case have said they likely died of dehydration and heat exposure.
Valeria and Oscar drowned while trying to cross the river into the United States, swept away by the water’s current between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville. A photo of them facedown in the water showed Valeria tucked into her father’s black shirt with her right arm wrapped around his neck, suggesting she held onto him during her last moments.
McAllen resident Debra Goetz, 55, said she came to remember the lives that were lost. She said it’s extremely upsetting that these migrants died during their journey.
“We have children dying where we call home,” Goetz said. “Human rights apply to everyone.”
A small, square box draped in colorful fabric acted as a makeshift altar in the center of the semicircle. Crosses for each migrant lay on top of the altar.
Aside from the loud flapping of a weight against a flagpole, the crowd was quiet and solemn. Participants went to the front to say prayers and recite poetry and scripture.
When musicians Jonathan Salinas and Nabi and Martha De Ángulo sang Mi Mundo Sin Ti, migrants from the Humanitarian Respite Center across the street walked past the crowd into the bus station.
“Que Dios te bendiga. Buena suerte,” the crowd shouted out encouragingly while waving. In English it means “God bless. Good Luck.” The migrants smiled and waved back.
Eugene Delgado, attorney for LUPE, said migrants and asylum seekers should be shown compassion.
“We should bring people here with open arms,” Delgado said. “Seeking asylum is a human right. They shouldn’t be punished when they try to seek that right here.”
Another vigil service was also held simultaneously in Brownsville at the Alice Hope Wilson Park.
The Associated Press reports the bodies of Oscar and Valeria were returned to El Salvador on Sunday for burial. They are expected to be buried in a private ceremony in the capital Monday. Oscar’s wife and Valeria’s mother, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, also returned to El Salvador after the incident.