America’s Aylan Moment: The Moral Challenge of Fighting Immigration on Border

When a father and his toddler’s dead body captured in Rio Grande, the American political elite came to face the grim reality of unintended consequences created by the rejection of immigrants on the southern border.

Abdullah Ayasun

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Photo Credit: Associated Press

The wrenching image of dead bodies of a father and his daughter found in Rio Grande sparked a bitter controversy over shortcomings of the U.S. strategy to curb the illegal border crossings and how to deal with its moral implications in the face of fatal tragedies.

As the U.S. House of Representatives finally overcame its partisan bickering and divide to assemble a new $4.5 billion humanitarian aid to shore up the depleting resources of immigration shelters and facilities, the photo captured the essence of the drama obscurely playing out in certain parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The image unmistakably evoked the photo of a Syrian toddler washed ashore in Turkey’s Aegean coast in 2015, something that created a collective response in Europe to help migrants fleeing the protracted fight in Syria. It was in that year when Europe (and the world) came to appreciate the far-reaching consequences of Syria’s unresolved war when migrants swept through Greece and Balkans in their bid to reach Germany and other prosperous E.U. countries.

The unceasing waves of immigrants spurred an international action and, after months of painful diplomatic wrangling, resulted in a mutual agreement between Turkey and the E.U. (in 2016) to stem the tide of this massive movement of people cutting across a dozen countries. Four years later, the U.S. experiences its own European moment as the entire immigration system shows signs of fraying in the face of a surge in legal and illegal crossings across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The photo of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi sparked a worldwide reaction. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas and the chairman of Hispanic Caucus, was quick in pointing to a resemblance between Aylan’s heart-rending photo with the latest one in…

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun