La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) launched a public petition Tuesday calling for Congressman Henry Cuellar to break his silence on the death of Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, an Indigenous woman from Guatemala. On Wednesday, in a statement to Neta, he did.

The 20-year-old indigenous woman from the city of Quetzaltenango was shot in the face by a Border Patrol agent in May in Rio Bravo, near Laredo— an area pertaining to the 28th U.S. Congressional District, which Cuellar represents.

“While the killing has sparked outrage and cries for #JusticeForClaudia in the US and Guatemala,” read LUPE’s petition published on their website, “US Congressman Henry Cuellar . . . has remained silent.”

They demand that Congressman Cuellar “must break his silence and join the call for justice for Claudia.”

Urging residents to call for an independent investigation in order to keep border agents accountable, LUPE, which represents over 8,000 members, asked petitioners to also call for border agents to wear body cams.

In July, LUPE helped organize a vigil for Claudia in coordination with the No Border Wall Coalition where members of the community mourned Gonzalez’s death and all those who have died under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and border patrol custody. They also called for the abolition of ICE.

We reached out to Congressman Cuellar for comment who responded with the following:

“This is a tragic occurrence. Each and every incident that involves the taking of a young life deserves to be thoroughly examined. Currently, there is an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Texas Rangers and these agencies must be allowed to carry out their investigations in order to obtain a comprehensive evaluation of what happened that day.”

“I have worked hard to make our southwest border more secure,” wrote the ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, adding that in the FY18 Appropriations bill, his office included $5 million to “continue advancing CBP technology including body-worn cameras and vehicle video recording systems.”

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Cuellar is the number two ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, under which ICE falls. In June, Neta reported on Cuellar’s campaign contributions from ICE contractor, GEO Group, Inc.

This funding, said Cuellar, is “a necessary investment in helping increase transparency and accountability during U.S. Border Patrol operations, while ensuring officer safety and safeguarding all those encountered during these operations.”

Cuellar maintained that in these situations “we cannot move with haste.” Rather, he argued, “we need to look at exactly what happened in order to determine what steps can be taken to ensure everybody’s safety.”

The longtime incumbent stressed the importance of a proper investigation being carried out in order to “determine exactly what occurred, ensure that all parties involved, regardless of position or legal status, are held accountable. Our ultimate goal should be to see a time where every law enforcement encounter comes to a safe conclusion.”

In correspondence with the congressman’s staff, they informed us that the statement was originally sent to Politico in June. Politico never published this, however.

Photo by Ava Leal

John Michael Torres, communications director for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, found it interesting that Cuellar would not put the statement out publicly “given that the killing happened in his district and that advocates have been asking him to speak up and seek justice for Claudia.”

Torres was pleased about Cuellar’s pointing to body-worn cameras as part of the solution.

“CBP must immediately expand the use of body cameras with privacy protections to all sectors and scenarios where agents interact with civilians,” wrote the immigrant rights activist in an email to Neta Wednesday.

Given how often this scenario has played out along the border, Torres argued, “Congressman Cuellar must move with haste to push for the expansion of body cameras and a transparent investigation.”

At least 77 people have lost their lives at the hands of Border Patrol along the southwest border since 2010. Immigrants seeking asylum have not killed any agents in the line of duty. Most tend to die in various kinds of accidents (vehicular, freight trains, drowning) or just from “collapsing,” which appear to result from heat strokes. Those agents murdered on the field are killed by assailants affiliated with organized crime and drug trafficking, according to CBP’s In Memoriam to Those Who died in The Line of Duty.

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Torres says few agents have faced the consequences of their actions and families continue without justice for their loved ones lost.

LUPE maintains that “a call for urgency to address these human rights abuses and bring justice to the families is what Congressman Cuellar’s constituents expect from him. Any one of us could be next.”

As Cuellar stated, the FBI and Texas Rangers are still conducting investigations. No facts about the case have been released. The name of the agent remains unknown, as well as the names of the three undocumented immigrants taken into custody as material witnesses. There is no definitive account of what transpired as CBP has issued two contradictory statements about the shooting.

The 15-year Veteran who shot the fatal round, according to CBP, remains on administrative leave per agency policy.

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