LYING face down in the shallows, a drowned migrant dad and his lifeless toddler daughter still appear to be clinging onto each other.
The harrowing image highlights the perils facing migrants trying to cross into the US as the border crisis escalates.
Salvadoran dad Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria drowned while trying to swim across the Rio Grande into Texas.
His black shirt can be seen 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 – as her mum looked on in horror.
The heartbreaking photo reveals the dangers faced by mostly Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the US.
Mexican newspapers have compared the photograph to the 2015 image of the three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi who drowned off the Greek island of Kos.
But it remains to be seen if it will have the same impact on America’s fierce immigration debate.
The bodies of the dad and daughter were discovered on the bank of the river near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, just 1km from an international bridge.
Martínez is understood to have swam across the river with his daughter on Sunday after becoming frustrated that they could not present themselves to US authorities and request asylum.
He set Valeria on the US bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but after seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters, according to reports.
The dad returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away as mum Tani screamed in horror.
Martínez’s mum Rosa Ramírez, who is back in El Salvador, spoke with her daughter-in-law over the phone after the tragedy unfolded.
“When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further … and he couldn’t get out,” Ramírez told AP.
“He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”
Ramírez said her son and his family left El Salvador on April 3 and spent about two months at a shelter in Tapachula, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala.
“I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home,” Ramírez said.
“They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house.”
El Salvador’s foreign ministry said it was working to assist the family including Ávalos, who was at a border migrant shelter following the drownings.
The bodies were expected to be flown to El Salvador on Thursday.
From the scorching Sonoran Desert to the fast-moving Rio Grande, the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border has long been an at times deadly crossing between ports of entry.
A total of 283 migrant deaths were recorded last year; the toll so far this year has not been released.
In recent weeks alone, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead on Sunday, overcome by the sweltering heat.
Elsewhere three children and an adult from Honduras died in April after their raft capsized on the Rio Grande.
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And a six-year-old from India was found dead earlier this month in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar well above 38C.
Tamaulipas immigration and civil defense officials have toured shelters beginning weeks ago to warn against attempting to cross the river, said to be swollen with water released from dams for irrigation.
On the surface, the Rio Grande appears placid, but strong currents run beneath.