One Republican member of Congress has a bizarre theory about the father and daughter who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande in June: They didn’t actually drown.
“When I look at the picture that was recently very well-distributed of the gentleman with the baby in the water, everybody looked at that and assumed that they drowned. I didn’t,” Florida Rep. John Rutherford said of Óscar and Valeria Martinez during a congressional hearing Wednesday.
“I’m a law enforcement officer. First thing I thought: A trafficker probably killed them, probably drowned them,” continued Rutherford, a member of the House appropriations committee conducting an oversight hearing into Border Patrol. “Most of the Rio Grande you can walk across. I don’t know about that particular section, but it’s more likely to me that some human trafficker killed those individuals, not that they drowned.”
But that’s not what Martinez’s relatives have said. His wife, Tania Vanessa Avalos, told Mexican officials that her daughter and husband got swept away by the river and drowned. And as VICE News previously reported, they decided to cross the river after being put in a difficult position by human traffickers and the U.S. government.
Martinez and his family were turned away at the Brownsville port of entry as part of the Trump administration’s “metering” policy, which limits how many migrants are allowed to enter the U.S. each day. Shortly before crossing the river, a stranger approached the couple and told them they could pay $1,300 — $500 for each adult, plus $300 for their 23-month-old daughter — to be guided across the river.
“He told us if we paid, we wouldn’t wait for very long,” Milton, a friend who had attempted to cross the river with the family that day, previously told VICE News. “He told us that he could add us to the list — that he had his connections so we could enter the U.S. faster.”
The group didn’t have the money to pay and were frightened by the extortion attempt. So they decided to cross the river on their own.
Rep. Rutherford’s office did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
Cover image: Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., speaks during a press conference with House GOP leadership in the Capitol on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)