Border violence is a part of daily life

June 4, 2018

Claudia Patricia Gómez González, an Indigenous woman from Guatemala, was murdered by a U.S. Border Patrol agent on May 23 as she tried to cross the border from Mexico near Río Bravo, Texas. She is the latest victim of Trump’s stepped-up campaign of scapegoating against immigrants. Trump’s use of racist and dehumanizing language to describe immigrants has emboldened Border Patrol and other enforcers of anti-immigrant policies, including racist vigilantes, to go on the offensive.

Karina Alvarez, a co-founder of the Laredo Immigrant Alliance, which organized a “Vigil Honoring Lives Lost in the Border” in the wake of Claudia’s murder, spoke with Charles Holm about her organization’s efforts to win justice and push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment unleashed by the Trump administration.

CAN YOU provide some background about the Laredo Immigrant Alliance as an organization? What is its core strategy?

THE LAREDO Immigrant Alliance is a group led by directly impacted immigrants and their allies in an effort to protect the rights of all immigrants. We work by organizing and educating our community to be more engaged on issues that affect our daily lives.

Our group was founded a year ago in the course of constant anti-immigrant attacks, such as Texas SB 4 and the threat to rescind DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]. We know firsthand how our families are at risk every day.

When hearing and engaging politicians about DACA legislation, one of the first conditions they are willing to exchange for making DACA permanent is the militarization of our borders, putting our border communities at risk.

A sign hung by activists in Laredo, Texas, to protest the murder of Claudia Patricia Gómez Gónzalez
A sign hung by activists in Laredo, Texas, to protest the murder of Claudia Patricia Gómez Gónzalez (Laredo Immigrant Alliance)

Currently, there are few immigrant rights resources supporting the border communities, especially the city of Laredo and neighboring rural towns. So we responded to the dire need to form an immigrant rights group by launching the Laredo Immigrant Alliance.

Our main strategy is to work on the ground educating and providing Know-Your-Rights sessions to our undocumented families, friends and neighbors. We do so because we’ve observed the low turnout for public Know-Your-Rights sessions, even those conducted at churches. We seek to empower, hence our strategy is to truly to work on the ground and meet members of vulnerable communities where they are.

We’ve also organized events such as rallies, vigils and DACA clinics, and most recently, we began educating our community about their medical rights. We are actively seeking cases of families who are in need of medical care or resources not provided in Laredo or other border communities, and who can’t access care beyond the border due to their immigration status.

Our main goal is to empower our vulnerable community and to minimize and cease the militarization of our borders.

HOW IMPORTANT is it for people to support the families impacted by Claudia’s death, and how has the family been involved in demanding justice and advocating for change at this difficult time?

CLAUDIA’S DEATH caused outragedthroughout our Río Bravo and Laredo community because of the use of excessive force. It is important to remember that this incident is not an isolated case. The difference is that the community was able to witness it after a live video of the murder went viral.

Watching the deadly incident and hearing the outrage and frustration of the woman highly impacted the viewers. It is important to support urgent demands for the Border Patrol to adopt better accountability measures and specifically to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of this murder.

Claudia’s family is asking for justice to be served. Adopt better accountability measures, the wearing of body cameras, and stopping the use of excessive force will mean her death was not in vain.

HOW DOES solidarity help to address various border struggles at the border?

SOLIDARITY AND action are important, because with people power, we can change the narrative and combat racist laws and policies that are currently in place.

WHY DO you think the mainstream press has been relying so much on the narrative that Claudia and others were throwing objects at Border Patrol or that they tried to jump the officer when the eyewitness account has rejected this narrative?

THERE IS support for the anti-immigrant rhetoric, and in a nonsensical way, support for the notion that these adults threatened the Border Patrol enough to justify the excessive use of force.

DO YOU consider the shooting of Claudia an isolated “bad apple” incident or part of a larger pattern of abuse?

THERE HAVE been many cases of physical, emotional and psychological abuse by Border Patrol officers. An innocent life was taken from someone in this particular case, but there are many tragic stories of undocumented immigrants being shot.

We can’t allow ourselves to become numb to such events. We are a nation of laws and, under the Constitution, have a right to due process. Claudia should not have died, and neither should we allow it to continue to happen.

CAN YOU describe generally what the interactions between the Border Patrol and the Latinx community in and around Laredo are like, whether documented or undocumented?

LAREDO IS a special kind of place. Our community is made up of a majority-Hispanic population. We are affected the most by the implementation of SB4.

Although we aren’t strangers to the collaboration between police departments and Border Patrol, we feel there has to be more done to educate Laredoans. We have rights whether we are undocumented, have DACA or are documented.

DOES THE movement for immigrant rights share similarities in your view with the struggles of other oppressed communities of color in the U.S.? For example, the #SayHerName hashtag, which was used during the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of Sandra Bland while in police custody in Texas, has also been widely used on Twitter as a way to bring attention to the killing of Claudia and others along the border.

YES, OUR group has been trying to publicize her story to humanize her. We began using #SayHerName because we wanted people to see she was not just a statistic, and that she was a person with a story. We wanted to tell her story and allow the community to see past the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is constantly being encouraged by our president.

It is dehumanizing to hear him calling us animals, rapists and murderers. This language has made it acceptable for Border Patrol to take certain actions that would otherwise be considered illegal. We are not a lawless land, and have the right to due process.

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When we began using #SayHerName, I couldn’t help, but make the comparison to the Black Lives Matter movement and all the wrongful deaths at the hands of law enforcement. We want all branches of the government to be held accountable for their actions. We are mothers, brothers, sisters and neighbors who seek nothing more than to live peacefully.

IS THERE anything else you would like to add about the organizing happening in places like Laredo and elsewhere that has been neglected in the mainstream media?

DON’T FORGET about border communities. We’ve seen plenty of emphasis on ICE and how ICE separates families, but we rarely place enough attention on border communities that are the most impacted. We have daily issues with Border Patrol and the growing militarization of our lands.

Further Reading

From the archives