Widow of migrant Oscar Martinez who drowned crossing the Rio Grande River along with their 22-month-old daughter returns home to El Salvador
Tania Avalos, 21, clasped her hands and largely kept her head down as she exited San Salvador's international airport, accompanied by foreign ministry officials
The young mother watched helplessly Sunday as currents swept away her husband, Oscar Martinez, and their daughter, Angie Valeria
Photos of the father and daughter's bodies face-down in the river and locked in a haunting embrace made headlines around the world this week
The image became an instant symbol of the Central American migration crisis and Mexico's recent crackdown on undocumented migrants
The widow of a Salvadoran migrant who drowned along with their almost 22-month-old daughter trying to cross the Rio Grande River to the United States returned home from Mexico Friday.
Tania Avalos, 21, clasped her hands and largely kept her head down as she exited San Salvador's international airport, accompanied by foreign ministry officials.
The young wife and mother watched helplessly Sunday as currents swept away her husband, Oscar Martinez, and their daughter, Angie Valeria, when the family tried to cross the river to reach Brownsville, Texas.
Photos of the father and daughter's bodies face-down in the river and locked in a haunting embrace made headlines around the world this week.
The image became an instant symbol of the Central American migration crisis and Mexico's recent crackdown on undocumented migrants, under pressure from US President Donald Trump.
Fleeing poverty and brutal gang violence in their downtrodden neighborhood in San Salvador, Avalos and her family had humanitarian visas in Mexico, and had planned to join the long list of migrants waiting to request asylum in the United States.
However, after a journey of more than nearly 2,000 miles, they found the border post in Matamoros, the Mexican city across from Brownsville, was closed.
Disappointed and exhausted, 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.
Their bodies were found the next morning, around 500 meters downstream.
Wearing jeans and a navy t-shirt, Avalos was met at the airport by El Salvador's deputy foreign minister, Mauricio Cabrera.
He asked journalists to respect her privacy.
'Her loss is very big and very deep,' he said.
'She was emphatic in telling our government she did not want to talk to the media.'
He said Martinez and Valeria's bodies were being repatriated overland, to avoid the lengthy paperwork to bring them home by plane.
The bodies were expected to arrive 'in the coming days,' he said.
Their deaths were a hot topic at Wednesday night's Democratic presidential candidate debate.
Martinez's 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.
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.
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.'
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.