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Will photo of migrant father and daughter who drowned at U.S.-Mexico border bring lasting change?

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: photo of migrant father and daughter who drowned at U.S. border sends shockwaves around the world, Ethiopian plane crash victims searching for answers, youth ER visits on the rise as smartphone use proliferates.

WARNING: This story contains a graphic image

Rosa Ramirez sobs as she shows journalists toys that belonged to her nearly 2-year-old granddaughter Valeria in her home in San Martin, El Salvador, on June 25, 2019. (Antonio Valladares/The Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • As the photo of a migrant father and daughter who drowned trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico makes headlines around the world, but will it bring lasting change?
  • Victims of the Ethiopia Airlines crash open up about their need to hold someone accountable for the loss of their loved ones. 
  • Youth ER visits are on the rise and experts say increased smartphone use may be part of the reason.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Horror along the U.S. border

It's hard to say what's most heartbreaking about the photo of the bodies. 

The fact that the father tucked his little girl inside his black T-shirt in an effort to keep her close? That her tiny arm remained draped around his neck? Or that the swift Rio Grande current finally deposited them in the long grass on the Mexican shore?

But the story of how Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a 25-year-old migrant from El Salvador and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, drowned Sunday as they tried to cross into the United States — within sight of an international bridge — is no less disturbing. 

According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Ramirez, his wife and child had spent eight weeks travelling north across the country to the Texas border, arriving in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, only to find that the wait time for an asylum interview with American authorities would be months

Frustrated, they chose to try to swim to Brownsville, Texas instead. Ramirez and Valeria made it safely across, but when he started to collect his wife, the little girl jumped in to follow. And Tania Vanessa Avalos watched in horror as her husband and daughter were swept away.

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, June 24, 2019, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. (Julia Le Duc/The Associated Press)

They are hardly the only would-be migrants to die on America's doorstep

And there have been many more close calls. On Sunday morning, a patrol boat plucked a Honduran father and his 2-year-old child from the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, as they struggled to stay afloat. Since the beginning of October, U.S. border agents have responded to more than 3,300 "rescue emergencies," with their busy summer season still to come.

Last year, there were 283 reported deaths along the southern U.S. border, the second lowest number in a decade

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol haven't released any stats for the current fiscal year, but the trend doesn't look promising. A local coroner in Arizona, reports that the bodies of 58 border crossers were found in the desert between the beginning of January and the end of May. 

Weather has played a part. There's the usual desert heat. And an unusually snowy winter, and wet spring in the Rockies, that has the waters of the 3,058 kilometre Rio Grande at their highest levels since 1985

But in the wake of the searing photo of Ramirez and his daughter, the focus is firmly on the Trump administration policies that have more migrants following dangerous routes to the United States — on pool floats through alligator filled waters, for example — with sometimes deadly consequences

"Trump is responsible for these deaths," former Texas Congressman and would be Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke posted on his Facebook account last night. "As his administration refuses to follow our laws—preventing refugees from presenting themselves for asylum at our ports of entry—they cause families to cross between ports, ensuring greater suffering and death. At the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety."

More people — many of them of seeking to escape violence and poverty in Central America — have been arriving at the U.S border over the past couple of years, with arrests hitting a 13-year high of 144,000 in May. But the numbers remain far below their early 2000s peak, and many of the difficulties have arisen from Trump's desire to detain those who cross for much longer periods, and an unprecedented flood of families and unaccompanied children

Attempts to help migrants are also being actively discouraged by authorities. Earlier this month, Scott Warren, a volunteer with an Arizona group called No More Deaths, was put on trial for allegedly helping two illegal migrants enter the U.S. The charge of harbouring and conspiracy to transport carried a sentence of up to 20 years in jail, but were dismissed after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

It's possible that one photo will move hearts and change minds

As in the way that the images of the lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach in the fall of 2015, raised worldwide concern for the plight of Syrian refugees, and spurred some governments into action

But even that shock wasn't lasting.

So far this year, at least 597 migrants have drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe's shores.

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A note to readers

After close to 380 editions and 12 million email deliveries, this is my final week of National Today newsletters as I'm moving on to some other writing opportunities at CBC News.

I want to thank you all for subscribing and reading, and for all the feedback that you've sent my way over the past 20 months.

The National Today is going to take a break for the summer and then return in September, refreshed and revitalized under new management.

Please keep reading.

Searching for answers

Senior correspondent Susan Ormiston and producer Sylvia Thomson were on the ground in Ethiopia to cover the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March. Months later, Thomson writes, families are still looking for answers and accountability. 

It's been almost four months since Ethiopian Airlines 302 crashed and killed all 157 people on board.

Canada lost heavily; more died from this country than from any other except Kenya – 18 Canadians and at least four more permanent residents. 

Paul Njoroge's wife, three kids and mother-in-law all died in that crash. 

Paul Njoroge, who lost his wife, three kids and mother-in-law in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, says his family's remains have still not been identified months after the crash and he will never be the same. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

"It's not well with me. It will never be well me for the rest of my life," Njoroge said when we met him in Toronto's High Park last week.

"They've not been able to identify my children," he said. "They've not been able to identify my wife yet."

Another Canadian, 47-year-old Chunming (Jack) Wang, died on his way to Kenya to organize some final paperwork for his Canadian citizenship.

Four other young Canadians, including Danielle Moore, were young delegates to a UN environmental conference in Nairobi. 

The pain is still so fresh with Moore's mother Clariss, that the very first interview question brought her to tears as she answered. 

"It's a struggle," Clariss Moore said from her home in Scarborough. "I think because Danielle's always away and you keep hoping that she can come back."

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 victim Danielle Moore's father Chris Moore, mother Clariss Moore, and younger brother David Moore, at their home in Scarborough. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

"I feel guilty breathing because she's not breathing. And you just wonder what that six minute looked like," she said, referring to the six minutes the flight was in the air before it crashed.

"Was she with someone? Was she calling me? Was she thinking of me?" 

Six of the  families from Canada have now joined legal action against Boeing, the company that makes the Max 8 aircraft, and against the FAA, the U.S. agency which oversees certification. 

U.S. lawyers allege Boeing was negligent and are pursuing wrongful death claims. The case against Boeing is in a U.S. federal court Thursday in Chicago. 

Boeing's 737 Max 8 aircraft are still grounded around the world but Boeing did negotiate a tentative contract for more Max series planes at the Paris air show in June, the first intent to purchase Max series aircraft since airlines around the world grounded the Max 8 last March. 

Perhaps lost in these news headlines is the personal toll still, the long grieving. So many Canadian families still haven't heard whether their loved ones' remains have been identified or DNA-matched, all these months later. 

So many families here, waiting for final burial and funeral ceremonies, and waiting to see if anyone will be held responsible for the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

  • WATCH: Susan Ormiston speaks with three Canadian families suing Boeing over the Ethiopian Airlines crash tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

Youth ER visits on the rise

Researchers have found an increase of ER visits and self-harm cases among youth, and as CBC News Health Reporter Christine Birak writes, the numbers also highlight a change in society. 

When we called Dr. Chris Wilkes to discuss a dramatic increase in the number of kids showing up in emergency rooms with mental health problems, the teen psychiatrist said something about social and emotional maturity that caught our attention.

"The new 18, is now 28."

In other words, when compared to previous generations, "kids these days" are taking an extra 10 years to mature.

A new analysis suggests that increased smartphone use could be one factor contributing to a rise in self harm and ER visits among teens. (The Associated Press)

It smacked of "in my day" but it seems, no one over 28 objects to this observation.

It's true, people are taking longer than ever to "grow up" and mentally mature.

Research shows teens are delaying things like dating, sex, drinking, getting a job or even a driver's license.

Keep in mind, it also means fewer teen pregnancies, fewer kids binge drinking and fewer fatalities on the roads.

But as Dr. Wilkes points out, consider what they're doing instead. 

"They spend a lot of time on smartphones," he says.

The Canadian Pediatric Society says, 20 per cent of high school students are logging more than five hours a day on social media alone.

The more time kids spend staring at screens, the less time they spend interacting with people, and that's likely delaying social and emotional maturation, Wilkes adds. 

Stunted maturity – add that to the list of how smartphones may be affecting children. We already know when kids get less exercise and less sleep, it harms their mental health.

Another reason why kids might not be growing up as quickly as they used to? 

Maybe they don't have to. 

Families are smaller than they used to be, couples are waiting longer to have their first child and parents are more financially stable. 

It all raises another important question -- is slower development toward adulthood a bad thing?

The short answer is, we don't know. 

Researchers can only tell us that it's happening.

  • WATCH: Christine Birak's story on the increase in ER visits and self-harm cases involving youth tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

A few words on...

Parking problems.

Quote of the moment

"When somebody is sick enough to resort to spitting on someone, it just emphasizes a sickness and desperation and the fact that we're winning."

Eric Trump, the son of the U.S. president, tells Breitbart News that an employee of a Chicago cocktail lounge was taken into custody by the Secret Service after she spit on him Tuesday night.

What The National is reading

  • China considering halting all Canadian meat imports over fake vet certificates (CBC)
  • Iran 'won't be alone' if U.S. attacks, Russain official says (Moscow Times)
  • As coal fades, natural gas becomes the climate battleground (NYTimes)
  • Denmark's youngest prime minister to lead new, leftist government (Guardian)
  • Twitter banning political ads in Canada until election campaign (CBC)
  • Migrant rescue boat enters Italian waters, defying government ban (Reuters)
  • Claiming to be Cherokee, contractors with white ancestry got $300 million (LATimes)
  • When Pepsi had the world's 6th largest navy (Hidden History)

Today in history

June 26, 1997: Rael says cloning holds secret of eternal life

You would have thought that heading up a free-love, free-sex space cult and being a race car driver would have been enough to keep Rael busy, but the Quebec-based guru had another passion — cloning. The aliens, he claimed, had taught him the secret of eternal life and Raelian scientists were working to put it into action. In fact, four-and-a-half years after this interview, the group held a Florida media conference to announce that they had indeed cloned a human baby girl, genetically identical to her mother. Seventeen years later the world is still waiting for proof.

Rael says cloning holds secret of eternal life

25 years ago
Duration 3:03
CBC reporter Mark Kelley investigates the claim by Rael that human cloning is possible.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.