top of page

Border Patrol Violence


Frontera Facts - Border Patrol Violence


“Don’t Treat Us Like Animals”- Border Patrol Killing of Claudia Patricia Gómez González Sheds Light on Broader Abuses


“This is not the first person dying in the United States. There are many people that have been treated like animals and that isn’t what we should do as people...Don’t treat us like animals” - Dominga Vicente (from statement by Claudia Patricia’s aunt at a press conference in Guatemala City)


The death at the hands of the Border Patrol on May 23rd of Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a 19 year old Guatemalan indigenous woman of Maya Mam origin, near Laredo, Texas, tragically epitomizes recurrent human rights abuses against migrants by CBP and ICE. Claudia Patricia was shot fatally in the head although she was unarmed. Border Patrol has provided varying, inconsistent accounts of the incident that led to her death, including the retraction of initial allegations that alluded to Gómez being part of a larger group that had supposedly assaulted the Border Patrol agent who killed her, a 15 year veteran.


Claudia Patricia was from the Maya Mam indigenous community of San Juan Ostuncalco in Quetzaltenango, a region with alarmingly high rates of poverty among its women and indigenous peoples, which has converged with other indigenous communities throughout the country to resist environmental devastation and forced displacement associated with extractive mining. Quetzaltenango’s indigenous communities were among those most affected by state terror at the height of Guatemala’s genocide in 1983.


Many analysts have stressed the importance of highlighting continuities between U.S. policy and the structural conditions of poverty, inequality and discrimination which drove armed conflicts in Guatemala and Central America in the 1980’s and ongoing processes of forced migration today in communities like those of Quetzaltenango.


Claudia Patricia “embodied the aspirations of so many who come to this country:

Trained as a forensic accountant, she left her homeland because she wanted to keep studying. With no way to earn the money to further her education at home, she traveled north to earn a living and reunite with her boyfriend in Virginia. Her dreams were met with a bullet in the head.


Dozens of human rights and migrant rights organizations from Guatemala and throughout Latin America have issued a joint communiqué1 demanding justice as to Claudia Patricia’s case and calling for the actions summarized below:


To the government of Guatemala-


  • Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to elevate its protest about what happened and demand that the competent authorities of the U.S. government investigate in depth the murder of Claudia Gómez that will allow the identification of the material authors of this crime, and a judicial process against those responsible to guarantee access to truth and justice for Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzáles and her relatives.


  • Through its consular system, to provide the necessary support to the victim’s family so that her remains are repatriated, as well as other supports they require. Also that the Guatemalan authorities demand from the U.S. government dignified reparation to the victims.


To the US Congress-


  • To legislate against the policies and actions that attack the life and dignity of people, to instead enact legislation that guarantees rights, in particular those of the migrant population.


To all organizations and people-


  • To promote human rights, particularly the right to life, to speak out and unite to monitor and denounce these and other crimes against people fleeing different types of violence and exclusion.2


Claudia Patricia’s case reflects a troubling trend of disregard for human life and dignity by immigration enforcement agents as well as a deepening culture of impunity. Human rights violations by immigration agencies have intensified since the beginning of the Trump administration in January 2017, as was highlighted in our latest report, Sealing the Border. Pursuing justice for victims in the courts has also been fraught with a number of obstacles.


The tally of lethal force cases involving CBP includes a total of 97 deaths attributable to Border Patrol agents and officers since 1997. The federal government has paid more than $9 million dollars in compensation as a result of at least 50 shooting deaths since January 2010, including 7 cross-border shootings since 2003; 28 of those killed were U.S. citizens and 6 were minors between the ages of 12 and 16. Thirty of these cases have been referred to CBP’s internal National Use of Force Review Board as “significant incidents” since June 2015 (following the Board’s establishment in December 2014), but all of the 17 reports whose conclusions were made public by this body determined that the use of force at issue was in compliance with agency policy. The Review Board was created following the controversy that resulted from an independent report in February 2013 by the Police Executive Review Research Forum which reviewed the handling of 67 cases of use of lethal force by CBP officers and agents, and raised multiple concerns as to lack of accountability, oversight and training, leading eventually to the adoption of a new Use of Force Policy, Guidelines, and Handbook.3


Among the cases which have stirred great concern are those involving cross-border shootings or deaths at ports of entry. Key examples include the deaths due to the actions of Border Patrol, CBP and/or ICE officers of Sergio Hernández Guereca in Ciudad Juárez in June, 2010; Anastasio Hernández Rojas at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego in May, 2010; and José Antonio Elena Rodríguez in Nogales in October 2012.


Each of these cases reflects the limits of accountability for abuses of this kind under current U.S. law as well as the urgent need both for reforms as to how such cases should be handled. Further, these cases also signal a need to apply more stringent international human rights standards to the handling of cases of extrajudicial killings.


Sergio Hernández Guereca’s cross-border shooting case arising out of the 15 year old’s  alleged involvement in an incident of rock-throwing from the Mexican side of the border at the Paso del Norte Bridge in El Paso went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. The case was remanded to lower courts and was dismissed in March 2018 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, on the grounds that its transnational circumstances and other “special factors” weighed against stricter limits on the use of lethal force by Border Patrol agents. These factors included the danger of judicial intrusion into matters best settled through diplomatic channels and by congressional action, and well as the Fifth Court of Appeals’ assertion of the need not to “undermine the Border Patrol’s ability to perform duties essential to national security”. From the court’s perspective, this meant not doing anything to cause Border Patrol agents to “hesitate in making split second decisions”. But reasoned, conscientious reflection on the part of the Border Patrol agent responsible for Claudia Patricia’s death might have spared her life. Given barriers to the vindication of his rights in both the U.S. and Mexico, Hernández Guereca and his family have been denied justice on both sides of the border.


Potential federal charges related to the use of excessive force in the death of Anastasio Hernández Rojas were ruled out in his case in November 2015. José Antonio Elena Rodríguez’ case involved the death of the 16-year-old due to a shooting through the Nogales border fence by a Border Patrol agent. The agent fired 16 shots, including 8 which hit Anastasio in the back and 2 in the head, also within the context of an alleged case of rock-throwing. An initial federal criminal prosecution led to a verdict in April 2018 which found him not guilty of second degree murder; the jury failed to reach a verdict as to lesser charges of manslaughter. The case will be tried again in October.


Hope Border Institute will continue to monitor cases of abuses of human rights by the Border Patrol, CBP, and ICE and will stand with the victims, families and communities of such abuses.

[1] Issued by: Guatemala

Grupo Articulador de la Sociedad Civil en Materia Migratoria:

Asociación Coordinadora Comunitaria de Servicios para la Salud - ACCSS

Asociación La Alianza

Asociación Lambda

Asociación Pop N’oj

AVANSCO - Asociación para el Avance de las Ciencias Sociales en Consejería Guatemala

Grupo Cajolá

INCEDES - Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Sociales y Desarrollo

Instituto de Investigación y Proyección sobre Dinámicas Globales y Territoriales de la Universidad Rafael Landívar

ECAP - Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial

Fundación Myrna Mack

Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado Democrático de Derecho

MENAMIG - Mesa Nacional de Migraciones

Misioneros de San Carlos Escalabrinianos

Movimientos Intercultural de Ixcán

ONG | Fuente de Vida, Zacapa, Guatemala

Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana

PAMI - Programa de Atención, Movilización e Incidencia por la Niñez y Adolescencia

Prensa Comunitaria

Médicos de Mundo


School of the Americas Watch - Chile

El Salvador

Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador - GMIES


Comisión de Acción Social Menonita - CASM

Casa Alianza de Honduras

Mexico and Guatemala

Mesa de Coordinación Transfronteriza Migraciones y Género (MTMG)


Casa del Migrante de Saltillo (CDMS)

Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova (CIMICH)

Colectivo de Educación para la Paz (CEPAZ)

Comité de Derechos Humanos de Comalcalco (CODEHUCO)

Comité de Derechos Humanos de Tabasco (CODEHUTAB)

Instituto para la Mujer Migrante (IMUMI)

Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano

Red Solidaria de Derechos Humanos

Sínodo Mexicano Luterano Cristo Rey, Tamaulipas, MX

Uno de Siete Migrando

Voces Mesoamericanas - Acción con Pueblos Migrantes

United States

Federación CBO Comunitarias de Los Ángeles, California

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Iglesia Luterana Agua Viva, El Cenizo - Laredo, Texas

Latin American Lutheran Mission - Minneapolis and Laredo

School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch)

[2] (translation from original Spanish version).


bottom of page