WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT and IMAGE

The man and his 23-month-old daughter lay face down in shallow water along the bank of the Rio Grande, his black shirt hiked up to his chest with the girl's head tucked inside.

Her arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments.

The searing photograph of the sad discovery yesterday, captured by journalist Julia Le Duc and published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada, highlights the perils of the latest migration crisis involving mostly Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the United States.

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From the scorching Sonora desert to the fast-moving Rio Grande, the US-Mexico border has long been an at times deadly journey for those who cross it illegally between ports of entry.

In recent weeks alone, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead on Monday, overcome by the sweltering heat.

Elsewhere three children and an adult from Honduras died in April after their raft capsized on the Rio Grande, and a 6-year-old from India was found dead earlier this month in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar well above 35C.

"Very regrettable that this would happen," Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said today in response to a question about the photograph. "We have always denounced that as there is more rejection in the US, there are people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing" the river.

According to Le Duc's reporting for La Jornada, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador were unable to present themselves to US authorities and request asylum, swam across the river with his daughter, Valeria.

He set her on the US bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away. The account was based on remarks by Ávalos to police at the scene.

Their bodies were discovered on the bank of the river near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, and several hundred metres from where they had tried to cross, just a kilometre from an international bridge.

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico.
The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico.

The photo recalls the 2015 image of a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean near Turkey, though it remains to be seen whether it may have the same impact in focusing international attention on migration to the US.

US policy has drastically reduced the number of migrants who are allowed to request asylum, down from dozens per day previously to sometimes just a handful at some ports of entry.

The US has also been expanding its programme under which asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in US courts, a wait that could last many months or even years.

This week the city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas, the same state where Matamoros is located, said it will become the latest city to receive returnees as soon as Saturday.

Many migrant shelters are overflowing on the Mexican side, and cartels hold sway over much of Tamaulipas and have been known to kidnap and kill migrants.

Mexico is stepping up its own crackdown on immigration, with much of the focus on slowing the flow in the country's south.

"With greater crackdowns and restrictions," said Cris Ramón, senior immigration policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center think-tank in Washington, "we could see more desperate measures by people trying to enter Mexico or the US."

- AP

A US Border Patrol boat navigates the Rio Grande.
A US Border Patrol boat navigates the Rio Grande.