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The photo of a father and daughter that illustrates what's happening at the US-Mexico border.

— With AAP.

Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and images, which may be upsetting to some readers.

A photograph of a man and his 23-month-old daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande has highlighted the perils for central American migrants trying to flee violence and poverty.

The searing photograph of the pair’s bodies was published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada on Tuesday, and has since gone viral.

According to La Jornada, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria, after becoming frustrated that he couldn’t apply to US officials for asylum.

He set her on the US bank of the river and started back for his wife, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters.

Martinez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away.

Their bodies were found Monday near Matamoros, across the river from Brownsville, Texas.

In the photograph, taken by journalist Julia Le Duc, who lives in Mexico, the father and daughter are lying near the shore, the young girl is tucked inside her father’s shirt, with her right arm around his neck. Their bodies are washed up near a river bank where discarded beer cans sit nearby.

Image: AAP.
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The 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border has been a sometimes deadly crossing for asylum seekers. A total of 283 migrant deaths were recorded last year.

For months, advocates have been warning an increase of deaths as desperate migrants are forced to cross in more dangerous areas due to policies enforced by the US that make it harder for those seeking asylum to turn themselves in at ports of entry.

U.S. "metering" policy has dramatically reduced the number of migrants who are allowed to request asylum, down from dozens per day previously to sometimes just a handful at some ports of entry.

CNN likened the distressing photo to the viral image of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey. The 2015 image of the drowned toddler lying in the sand triggered discussions over policies toward migrants.

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