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The tragedies at the border will continue until we address the root causes of migration

[su_label type=”info”]Column: Centrospective[/su_label]

Nestor Castillo

When I first heard of Claudia Gomez Gonzalez’s murder at the hands of a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent in Rio Bravo, Texas, I asked myself, “why?”

Claudia had left her indigenous Mam community of San Juan Ostuncalco in western Guatemala, three weeks prior to her death, with the hope reuniting with a boyfriend and maybe making a dignified living, only to find herself shot in the head. The initial story told by the CBP officer has transmuted (as these situations tend to do) to which we could follow up with a countless number of questions, similar to the questions asked by an outraged bystander in Facebook live video taken right after the shooting occurred.

After wading through some of the more superficial aspects of this shooting, the question I ended up asking myself is: “What is the social function behind the cruel murder of a 20-year-old Indigenous woman from Guatemala?” It may be too simple of an explanation to say this was just one rogue agent’s personal racism/xenophobia and incompetence. At the same time, attributing it to a system of racism, xenophobia and White supremacy—although very much the root of the problem—can be just as reductive.

Collage art honoring Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, a 20-year-old woman from Guatemala, who was fatally shot by border patrol on May 23. Collage Art: Ruben Guadalupe Marquez

Liberation psychologist, Ignacio “Nacho” Martín-Baró, who was himself murdered via gunshot to the head, wrote in his essay “The Psychological Value of Violent Political Repression” that violent political repression (which is the only way we can understand the killing of Claudia) affects the repressor or the one who commits the act, the repressed who is victim of the act and the spectator which is all of us who are aware of these abuses.

In order to commit these crimes, the repressor experiences cognitive dissonance. Nacho writes that the repressor needs to see the repressed as subhuman, or as criminals, and see themselves as one of “the good guys.” The repressed on the other hand will accommodate repressor’s behavior in order to avoid being punished and identify the abuser as someone to fear. The spectator, again who is all of us—especially in our digital age in which a video can be captured and shared around the world in an instant—will either come to identify with the repressor or the repressed.

It serves as a warning to any would be migrant: Come here and not only will you not be accepted fully into society, but you will be punished for coming. This is the concept of learning via another migrant’s body.

Has not the gradual rise of lethal force, family separation, imprisonment, and deportation on part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CBP against migrants, which began with the last administration and culminated with the Trump administration, been an attempt at teaching us the value of violence? The problem is that violent repression will not produce any changes in migration flow unless the root causes of the migration are dealt with. Recently there have been calls mostly on social media to dismantle ICE, CBP, and other agencies. So far they have fallen on deaf ears, especially as countries in the semi-periphery rush to fortify their own borders, just as Mexico has done on its southern front.

The logic of this system means that these atrocities are not one-offs, they will continue. Within the same time period that Claudia Gomez Gonzalez was murdered, a 33-year-old trans woman named Roxana Hernandez, who was seeking asylum from Honduras, died while in custody at a facility in New Mexico. The solutions we need to be seeking require us to rethink our ideas about society at a global scale.

As the former president of Uruguay, Pepe Mujica, once stated, “Los indigentes del mundo no son de África o de América Latina, son de la humanidad toda.” (The destitute people of the world are not from Africa or from Latin America, they are from the whole humanity.) Until we all begin to take serious the need to create a new global system, I fear there will be many more Claudias to come.

Story by: Nestor Castillo