Indigenous Children are Dying at the U.S./Mexico Border


Washington, D.C. May 16, 2019  Today, the International Mayan League denounces the latest victim of death and murder at the U.S/Mexico border, a 2½ year-old toddler, a boy from Chiquimula, Guatemala. This tragic loss comes on the heels of the death of 16-year-old Juan de Leon Gutierrez of the Maya Ch’orti’ people – also from Chiquimula. For the last year our people have been under constant attacks at the border. Since May 2018 we have lost five lives from Guatemala. First, Claudia Patricia Gómez González (Maya Mam) 20 years old who was shot in the head by a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Agent; then 7-year-old Jakelin Caal (Maya), and 8-year-old boy Felipe Gomez Alonzo (Maya Chuj) both died in December while in CBP custody. Now, we have lost two more lives. How many more children must die before there is collective outrage, actions, denouncements? How many more times do we need to say this is a crisis specifically affecting indigenous children and youth?

We, indigenous peoples, are the majority in Guatemala and continue to be disproportionately impacted because our basic human rights are denied by the Guatemalan government and all sectors of society. We are forced to flee only to encounter inhumane treatment and human rights violations at the U.S./Mexico border in violation of international law. The Guatemalan and the United States governments must be held accountable for the deaths of our children. Impunity for their deaths is not an option and we demand justice and peace for their families.

Children, explicitly indigenous children, are some of the most victimized. In fiscal year 2019 alone, 19,9911 Guatemalan unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the border. The number of Guatemalan family units has soared to 114,778, the highest for all the Central American countries2. Considering indigenous peoples are the majority in Guatemala, contrary to government admission, we strongly believe that these statistics reflect that thousands of Maya children and families are seeking refuge. Their indigenous identities must be acknowledged and documented.

Each indigenous child whose life has been stolen was forced to migrate because they are the most affected by centuries of structural inequality and discrimination in Guatemala. They often have no future in their rural and extremely impoverished communities. Many have little access to formal education and likely only speak their native language, an additional barrier that hinders their communication with authorities or service providers when migrating. We are outraged by these tragedies and demand the following from the government of the United States. There must be exhaustive, fair and transparent investigations by the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security into all the deaths at the border; a dialogue with leaders of the Guatemalan Maya diaspora for the development of humane immigration policies; and recognition and implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the bare minimum standard for the respect and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in forced migration.

Almost exactly at the 1-year anniversary of the murder of Claudia Patricia GÃmez GonzÃlez of the Maya Mam Nation, we are reliving another nightmare, the death of a toddler. We are tired of being treated as if our lives do not matter. We will not stand idly by as our children are murdered by inhumane policies and practices rooted in hatred, fear, and racism.

2 Ibid.