A longtime resident along the U.S.-Mexico border reflects on the death of a young immigrant who wanted to be with her husband. He calls for greater compassion.
A few weeks ago, the president of the United States referred to immigrants as “animals.” His apologists hastened to insist that he was referring to gang members, but the remark was consistent with a recent series of actions that establish the degree to which the Trump administration views immigrants as less than human.
On May 23, unarmed, 19-year-old Claudia Patricia Gomez was shot to death in a dusty town in Texas just north of the border. She had crossed into the United States to join her husband and was traveling with a group of immigrants.
The aftermath of the shooting was captured on Facebook Live by a neighbor. As the U.S. Border Patrol rounded up other members of the group, an agent is heard saying to some of immigrants, “This is what happens to you people.”
This recent death of an unarmed civilian at the hands of a Border Patrol agent came a month to the day after a different Border Patrol agent was found innocent of homicide after shooting 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena to death. In that case, the defense lawyer argued that the first three shots were fired in self-defense, and, since one of those first shots would have killed the teenager, the other six that the agent fired could not have been homicidal as the boy was already dead.
Sandwiched between these events was the announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice that the federal government would follow a “zero tolerance” program on immigrants. Attorney General Jeff Sessions crowed that one new policy would be that children crossing the border would be separated from their parents as a matter of policy.
Since that announcement, more than 1,000 children have been rendered orphans. Court watch witnesses report fathers and mothers pleading with the federal magistrate judge to “tell me where my little boy is, please!” The judge (in this instance), serving willingly or not as a cog in the deportation machine muttered, “there is a special place in hell for the people who created this (policy).”
Indeed. Workers at the site where the detained families are first taken after being picked up by the Border Patrol said that when the children are removed from the parents the scene “fue algo de Satanas” (“was something created by Satan”). “Puro grito, pura llorada” – just screaming and wailing.
I invite you to contemplate the hell that the mom or dad who had their child taken from them must have felt then – and is still feeling now.
I can only enter into a dark prayer as I wonder, worse still, what the children must feel. I have been made painfully aware of the horrors that have been visited upon the tender hearts of these children from Honduras or El Salvador or Guatemala or Mexico. To have their sole emotional and spiritual support ripped from them – this takes torture to an entirely new level.
As the investigation of the shooting of Claudia Patricia proceeds, I invite you to reflect upon her photograph. Look into her eyes. She is not an “animal.”
Michael Seifert is a community activist in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He is the border advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas, which is affiliated with the ACLU Foundation of Texas. He also is a board member for Equal Voice Action.