Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a young Indigenous woman from Guatemala, was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent on May 23 while crossing from Mexico into Rio Bravo, Texas.
Marta Martinez, who lives just a mile from the border and regularly witnesses migrants being chased down by Border Patrol, heard a gunshot that morning and witnessed the deadly aftermath. In a recording that immediately went viral, Martinez can be heard shouting: “Why do you mistreat them? Why did you shoot the girl? You killed her! He killed the girl. She’s there! She’s dead!”
The US Customs and Border Protection agency released a statement the same day that attempted to justify the agent’s actions. It claimed he “came under attack” and described the migrants as “assailants” armed with “blunt objects.”
But by Friday, the agency released a different statement with no mention of “blunt objects” or “assailants.” Martinez stated she didn’t see any weapons and didn’t hear the agent make any commands to “stop” or “don’t run,” further contradicting the official story.
It seems clear that Claudia was murdered — shot in the head while attempting, along with three others, to make the dangerous trip across the border.
Claudia was hoping to cross the border safely to reconnect with her boyfriend — and according to one of her cousins, “because of a great need that her family has” economically.
She planned to earn money to send back to Guatemala while continuing her education in the US Her father, Gilberto Gómez, said Claudia “left with the desire to better her life.” She was robbed of that opportunity by the Border Patrol.
More than 7,000 migrants have been killed by the Border Patrol or died attempting to cross the border since 1998, not counting hundreds if not thousands more who have “disappeared” on the dangerous journey.
Migrants from Guatemala leave for the US for many reasons, but according to the Center for Immigration Studies, over 90 percent are motivated by economic reasons. Some 60 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty, and the country has some of the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates in Central America. Remittances from Guatemalans working in the US make up about 10 percent of Guatemala’s GDP.
Claudia’s murder comes a week after Donald Trump referred to immigrants as “animals” for at least the fifth time on national television. This language reflects the very real way that immigrants are dehumanized — starting at the very top of the US government.
Trump’s remarks are dangerous, and migrants and their families know why. “It’s not fair that they treat them like animals just because they come from countries less developed,” Gómez’s aunt said during a press conference in Guatemala.
Meanwhile, Martinez said she heard a Border Patrol agent telling two migrants apprehended on the scene of Gómez’s murder: “See what happens? This is what happens with you people.”
As is the case with state and local police, Border Patrol agents are rarely held accountable for their actions.
In 2016, despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security itself referred to corrupt border agents as “a national security threat” and found that the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had a “broken disciplinary process,” Border Patrol regularly get by with physical and sexual abuse, as well as murder.
The US government has paid some $60 million in settlements where border agents were involved with wrongful detentions, assault and deaths. The American Civil Liberties Union just released documents revealing widespread physical and sexual abuse of migrant kids and teens by Border Patrol.
Earlier this year, agents were caught destroying jugs of water left in the Arizona desert near border-crossing areas by a humanitarian group, No More Deaths. Instead of reprimanding the agents, the volunteers for No More Deaths were charged with federal misdemeanors.
Trump’s response to this culture of violence is…a promise to increase their presence by adding 5,000 additional agents.
There are more than 40,000 Border Patrol in the CBP, making it the largest law enforcement agency in the country and one of the largest in the world, with a budget of $14 billion.
But Trump and the Republicans don’t bear all the responsibility. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties have contributed to the mass militarization of the border, particularly between Mexico and the US.
In his book No One is Illegal, Justin Akers Chacón writes about the massive bipartisan effort to militarize the border.
During the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan, funding for the Border Patrol increased by 130 percent. The administration of Democrat Bill Clinton created Operation Gatekeeper, which not only increased funding for enforcement, but further militarized the border, through “deploying underground sensors, infrared night scopes and encrypted radios; building miles of new fences; and installing massive amounts of new lightning.”
In 2002, George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, and his administration was also responsible for large budget increases for Border Patrol.
Despite his campaign promises and rhetoric, Barack Obama’s administration is guilty of strengthening the deportation machine, including by expanding programs promoting police collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in apprehending, detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants.
Obama oversaw a significant increase in the number of immigrant detention centers, the deportation of some 2 million people and a massive budget increase for the CBP. In other words, the foundation for Trump’s efforts to ramp up the militarization of the border was built during the Obama era.
Karina Alvarez of the Laredo Immigrant Alliance knows that the militarized border isn’t about security or safety.
The Trump administration’s deployment of National Guard troops to the border is an unwelcome form of “protection,” Alvarez told NPR. “Our community really is in fear, we really think there should be accountability over Border Patrol agents.”
On May 26, Alvarez and the Laredo Immigrant Alliance held a Vigil Honoring Lives Lost in the Border and expressed their outrage at the murder of Claudia González, as well as extending condolences to her family.
The group invited people from Rio Bravo and El Cenizo to “come together as we honor the lives lost at the border.” Alvarez explained on Facebook that rhetoric portraying immigrants as “murderers, rapists and animals” is “how ICE and BP perceives us” and “their actions are becoming normalized.”
She said what is most important right now is for people to act, fight back and reject all calls for more immigration enforcement, especially “the mass hiring of untrained Border Patrol agents who will cause more damage.”
The fight in Texas against the murderous Border Patrol and ICE demands solidarity. Movimiento Cosecha posted on Facebook that we must “#SayHerName”: Claudia Patricia Gómez González.
Like Sandra Bland, an African American woman who died in police custody after being detained during a traffic stop in Texas, her death must be remembered as activists organize and continue to fight for justice.
Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s life mattered, and what activists do now matters. We must demand that Border Patrol agents be held accountable and not simply be given administrative leave. And we must understand that until the border is demilitarized and people are able to cross borders freely, migrants will continue to die.