This past Sunday, June 2nd, immigrant justice activists Movimiento Cosecha organized a National Day of Mourning to honor the victims of the U.S. immigration system.
Claudia Patricia Gómez González was a 20-year-old indigenous Maya-Mam woman from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Claudia’s mother, Lidia González, described her daughter as playful, smart, and mischievous. She was travelling to the U.S. to continue her studies in mathematics. On May 23rd, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed her in Rio Bravo, Texas. In a series of contradictory statements, Border Patrol blamed Claudia for her own murder, referring to her only as an “assailant.”
Two days later, on May 25th, came the death of Roxana Hernandez, a 33-year-old transgender woman from Honduras who came to the U.S. as part of the Central American Refugee Caravan. She was seeking asylum after having been raped and threatened in Honduras. Roxana was remembered as courageous, respectful, and willing to provide care for other asylum seekers. She died from complications of HIV, pneumonia, and extreme dehydration after being detained for 5 days in freezing conditions in the hielera (ice box) cells that ICE facilities are known for. Another woman detained with her reported that ICE refused medical aid for Hernandez.
In their statement announcing her death, ICE devoted several paragraphs to Roxana’s “criminal record” because she had previously been deported and had been convicted of sex work.
ICE and CBP pretend that these two young women’s deaths were inevitable because of their so-called “criminal actions.” But let’s be clear. No matter what laws they might have broken, Claudia Gonzalez and Roxana Hernandez were human beings. They didn’t deserve to be murdered by the U.S. government.
Alvaro Enisco, an artist who marks migrant deaths in the borderlands, calls deaths like Claudia and Roxana’s “deaths that should not have happened” to counter the state’s narrative of migrant deaths as inevitable or isolated events. Instead, these are murders that result from the way the U.S. government dehumanizes and devalues migrant lives, over and over again.
The Border Patrol agents that murdered Claudia Gonzalez are there in the first place because, since 1994, the US has made an ongoing effort to militarize the border in order to both increase the arrests of people crossing and deter people by forcing them to cross in more dangerous conditions. (The measures began after the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) created widespread poverty in Mexico and Central America.) Border security was ramped up after 9/11 and again by the Trump administration, which also punishes humanitarian aid workers trying to make the border safer.
Border Patrol agents murdered at least 50 people between 2010 and 2017 alone, and countless people have died due to the more dangerous environment that this militarization has caused, particularly for migrant women.
Meanwhile, Roxana Hernandez was killed in a trans-specific unit of Cibola Correctional Facility Detention Center, praised as part of Obama’s “LGBTQ friendly” incarceration/ deportation practices. But trans women can never be safe in detention, and neither can anyone else. A recent statement by 37 immigrants from the Refugee Caravan revealed grotesque living conditions that are characteristic of ICE detention centers: being forced to work for $1.50 a day, being denied medical attention, and being given dirty razors. The center is run by a private prison company, a profitable industry that has boomed in recent years and thanks to incarcerated people’s forced labor.
There are no accidental deaths at the hands of the state. As we call for the abolition of ICE, CBP, and detention itself, mourning practices like Cosecha’s and Dia de los Muertos are a powerful antidote to a government that dehumanizes its victims and blames them for their deaths. Immigrant activists ask us to refuse apathy and recenter the humanity of the most vulnerable — and often the most invisible — victims.
As Barbara wrote describing Enisco’s art,
We are drawn closer to something lost, something barely visible, something we were never meant to see. We are introduced to people who die and decompose secretly but whose stories challenge ideas of who belongs, who counts as human, and what it means to draw a line in the sand and condemn those on one side to death if they dare trespass.
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