Her name is Claudia Patricia Gómez González. This is one of the last pictures of her—her fresh, round face opens to the camera, above a traditional huipil embroidered in flowers. She is a 19-year old indigenous woman who is proud of her roots; an accountant, daughter, sister and girlfriend.
Or she was. On May 23, the Border Patrol shot a bullet into her head in Rio Bravo, Texas. She died on the spot.
Claudia is not the first migrant murdered by the Border Patrol, nor will she be the last. But her death profoundly affected people for three reasons–the tragedy of the violent, premature end of a young woman who only wanted to study and work, the indignation of her family in Guatemala and of the neighbors who filmed the Border Patrol agents when they shot her, and the thousands of human beings who are fed up with the sub-human treatment of migrants that has become public policy under the Trump government.
Claudia left the municipality of San Juan Ostuncalco because, despite having graduated in 2016 as an accountant, she could not find work. Her mother Lidia, said she battled faced discrimination for being poor ”and for being an indigenous woman”. Three strikes against her. She left her home in Quetzaltenango to head for the United States.
As if that weren’t enough, the family had stopped receiving the remittances her father sent when the US government deported him in 2017. Claudia left on May 7 “out of necessity”, according to her mother, like so many other migrants from her country.
The Border Patrol, whose motto is “Securing the borders of America,” gave an “official” version of the facts and then changed it. The first statement, full of contradictions, said that the group of young migrants attacked an agent “with objects” and refers to Claudia as “one of the attackers”. Later they admitted that they opened fire against the unarmed migrant and they identified Claudia as “a member of the group”. Three migrants were arrested.
The FBI and the Texas Rangers are investigating the shooting. The priority for the Border Patrol is, as always, to find a way to cover up the crime and prevent justice. The Border Patrol has killed 97 people since 2003. It almost never punishes its agents for the murder of migrants, even when children are concerned. On the contrary, the agency, also famous for its high levels of corruption, has been consistently rewarded with greater funding under Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses alike.
Politics have contributed to its irresponsible expansion. This expansion in personnel, equipment and infrastructure is totally unjustified. The agency kills people in the name of “border security,” equipped with weapons, detection and transportation equipment to hunt down and stop people crossing the deserts of the southwestern United States. Dominga Vicente, Claudia’s aunt, told a press conference that “There are many people who are being treated like animals and that is not what we should do as people.” She concluded by facing into the camera to send a direct message to the US government: “Do not treat us like animals.”
It is likely that Dominga’s message will not be well received in Washington. Just two days before Claudia’s death, the White House followed up on a Tweet from Trump with an official statement under the heading, “What you need to know about the violent animals of the MS-13.” Not only did Trump dehumanize all the supposed members of the Salvadoran gang, but also on several occasions he has included migrants in general. His repressive policies and statements reflect contempt for people who migrate or seek refuge in the United States. The latest “zero tolerance” program that separates children from their parents upon arrival in the US blatantly seeks to sow fear and violates basic rights.
Rights organizations in Guatemala, Mexico and the United States published a letter to protest Claudia’s murder: “The assassination of Claudia demonstrates once again the racism, xenophobia and militarism promoted by the government of the United States of America.”
The logic of criminalizing migrants as a form of contraband, illegal traffic or invaders, without considering their circumstances or their humanity, prevails in the empire like never before. Migration is a global phenomenon, not a threat, and borders do not need security-it’s the people crossing them who need a safe place. True human security cannot consist in criminalizing and killing with impunity any group of human beings, especially not those that are forced to migrate to survive.