A year ago on May 23, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent shot Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a migrant woman of Maya Mam ancestry, in the head, killing her. A week later, Honduran trans woman Roxana Hernández died in detention.
On May 20 of this year, reports emerged detailing the death in detention of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez of the Maya Achi people. Within less than a month, he is the third migrant under the age of 18 to die after being detained at the border. Juan de Leon Gutierrez, a 16-year-old of the Maya Ch’orti’ people, died on April 30, and 2-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramírez-Vásquez died on May 14.
December had seen two other deaths: 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin of the Maya Q’eqchi people and 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo of the Maya Chuj. On May 22, CBS reported the death of another child last September who had previously gone unreported. (tinyurl.com/yytykwqs)
The anniversary of Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s killing is a reminder of the open war being waged by the U.S. government against migrants.
This war is a long one that has taken many forms over the years, but when the concentration camps on the border and the family separation policies were revealed last year, they assumed a prominent place in national news.
Workers and oppressed in the U.S. responded to the news by taking to the streets and fighting back. Very quickly, the government was forced to reunite the families it had separated. However, migrants are still being herded under bridges. Children are still dying in detention.
Migrant children and children-to-be
While migrant children are dying at the southern border, the alliance of neo-Fascists, evangelicals and big business known as the Republican Party have introduced or passed laws in several states that would effectively ban abortion. Some states are even attempting to pass laws that would sentence women to death for having an abortion.
To justify this patriarchal attack, the right wing has given tremendous importance to the life of potential children, who might be born one day. It would stand to reason then that they should be the first to denounce the deaths of children who already exist. In practice, however, they have adopted a border policy, which was already racist to begin with, and elevated it to the level of a crime against humanity.
As they intensify their assault against reproductive rights, the right wing is trying to intensify the repression of migrants and make conditions on the southern border even worse. In the White House, there is open talk of pardoning any government officials who commit crimes while acting on racist presidential orders.
The logic of the U.S. government is easy to see: Migrants, even migrant children, don’t count as people, and can be treated worse than animals. To the right wing, a six-week-old fetus has a sacred right to live and matters even more than the life of the mother, but once that child is born, if it is a migrant, the only right it has is the right to die.
U.S. and systematic hatred of children
It’s convenient for the ruling class that the children dying at the border are migrants because they can use the widespread racism in the U.S. to keep at least a portion of the working class from rebelling against this horror. But the U.S. government is guilty of abuse and death by neglect for far more than just migrant children.
The U.S. is the only so-called “developed country” in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. On top of that, because health care in general is prohibitively expensive, it is expensive to have a child in the first place. How is a working mother expected to take care of her child when she has to go straight back to work to pay the hospital bill?
In the U.S., when a child owes money for school lunches, they might receive a number of responses. Sometimes, their food is thrown in the trash in front of their friends. Other times, they are denied hot food and have to make do with bread and jam. Very rarely are they met with kindness and understanding.
If a kid can’t pay for school lunch, it’s because they come from a poor family, and as such the school meal is very often the only hot food they get. There is such an institutional hatred of children that when a restaurant owner in Rhode Island offered to pay off lunch debts, the school district refused the offer. (tinyurl.com/y6q8v4qc)
Every winter, we hear stories about public schools that can’t afford to heat classrooms.
The U.S. has one of the highest rates of juvenile incarceration; most of the children are accused of nonviolent crimes. Some kids don’t even make it to jails, especially if they are Black. Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by a white Cleveland police officer. His killing received media attention. How many cases like his don’t make national headlines?
Because racism is so deeply ingrained in U.S. institutions, the hatred of children is even worse toward those who aren’t white. For them, generations of discrimination are compounded by the continued destruction of social services.
Schools in communities of color have experienced decades of militarization. Now, schools are filled with police and metal detectors — policies more fitting for a jail than an educational institution.
Imperialism at home and on the border
The immediate causes of the deaths of migrant children vary, but all share a common root: U.S. imperialism and border policy. U.S. imperialism oppresses and exploits dependent countries and leaves people with no choice but to migrate to the imperial metropolis.
The exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — results from more than a century of domination by U.S. imperialism, added to over 400 years of Spanish colonialism.
Most migrants coming from Central America are Indigenous peoples. They leave because, despite being the majority in these countries, they have always suffered the most under colonialism and imperialism. There are few jobs in their communities and even fewer social services.
The elites in these countries, mostly descendents of Spanish colonizers, collaborate with transnational corporations to maintain favorable conditions for foreign investment. In exchange for selling their countries to transnationals, the oligarchs are given free rein to plunder state funds.
The current wave of migration can be concretely linked to the civil wars that engulfed the region in the 1980s and even more immediately to the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras. In Guatemala, the civil war lasted almost 40 years and was the result of a coup in 1954 that overthrew the progressive government of Jacobo Arbenz. At that time, imperialism intervened to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company, a U.S. transnational.
Today, imperialism is more interested in building mines and call centers, but it has yet to find a reason to be interested in the living conditions of the masses. Extreme poverty, violence and lack of opportunity all drive people north — to reclaim some portion of the wealth that has been siphoned from their home countries for centuries.
When people undertake the dangerous journey north, the same imperialism that reduced their homelands to poverty meets them at the border with tear gas and concentration camps. Migrants, who are mostly Indigenous, are criminalized, and the U.S. government spends its energy trying to build a wall to keep them out.
For imperialism, the peoples of the world are only worth the value it can extract from them. Transnationals scour the world for cheap labor, and when those same laborers try to enter the imperial core, they are thrown in jail so they can be exploited even more efficiently.