Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant, was seriously ill when immigration agents put him in a small South Texas holding cell with another sick boy on the afternoon of May 19.
A few hours earlier, a nurse practitioner at the Border Patrol’s dangerously overcrowded processing center in McAllen had diagnosed him with the flu and measured his fever at 103 degrees. She said that he should be checked again in two hours and taken to the emergency room if his condition worsened.
None of that happened. Worried that Carlos might infect other migrants in the teeming McAllen facility, officials moved him to a cell for quarantine at a Border Patrol station in nearby Weslaco.
By the next morning, he was dead.
Carlos was the sixth migrant child to die after being detained while entering the U.S. in less than a year. Some died of preexisting illnesses, but at least two others died of the flu diagnosed while in Border Patrol custody. Carlos was the only one to die at a Border Patrol station; the others were taken to medical facilities after falling ill. In the previous decade, not a single migrant child had died in custody.
Unlike ICE, a recent creation, the Border Patrol has a much longer, bloodier, and irredeemably racist history. The most important book I read this year was Greg Grandin’s The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (a summary by Jedediah Britton-Purdy can be found here). It is crucial for an understanding of the current crisis along the US’s southern borders, as well as serving to demolish the ignorant, self-aggrandizing narratives Americans tell themselves. It really should be required reading.
Among many other topics, Grandin elucidates how various strains of racist cowboys, the KKK, and violent goons coalesced into what became the U.S. Border Patrol. From its creation, it attracted the worst fucking people. In Grandin’s words, “fearing they were losing the larger struggle in defense of Anglo-Saxonism, white supremacists took control of the newly established U.S. Border Patrol and turned it into a vanguard of race vigilantism.”
I like to think I’m pretty well-informed about the historical violence perpetuated by the US, so much that I sometimes feel desensitized. But the wanton bloodshed and cruelty Grandon describes was astonishing and painful to read (though not surprising). Grandin references the Refusing to Forget project which documents racial violence along the US-Mexico border from 1910-1920:
The dead included women and men, the aged and the young, long-time residents and recent arrivals. They were killed by strangers, by neighbors, by vigilantes and at the hands of local law enforcement officers and the Texas Rangers. Some were summarily executed after being taken captive, or shot under the flimsy pretext of trying to escape. Some were left in the open to rot, others desecrated by being burnt, decapitated, or tortured by means such as having beer bottles rammed into their mouths. Extralegal executions became so common that a San Antonio reporter observed that “finding of dead bodies of Mexicans, suspected for various reasons of being connected with the troubles, has reached a point where it creates little or no interest. It is only when a raid is reported or an American is killed that the ire of the people is aroused.”
Far from being surreptitious, the violence was welcomed, celebrated, and even instigated at the highest levels of society and government. As thousands fled to Mexico and decapitated bodies floated down the Rio Grande, one Texas paper spoke of “a serious surplus population that needs eliminating.” Prominent politicians proposed putting all those of Mexican descent into “concentration camps” – and killing any who refused. For a decade, people would come across skeletons in the south Texas brush, marked with execution-style bullet holes in the backs of their skulls.
There’s a fucking baseball team named after the Texas Rangers! I had no idea that that was what the name referred to. Suitably, they were created to fight Native Americans, and later officially incorporated into law enforcement in 1902. They literally carried out mass executions, the numbers of which will never be known. And still, they’re mindlessly romanticized and celebrated, though it’s hard to expect anything less from such an historically illiterate populace.
Their legacy continues in the modern-day Border Patrol, in that the latter still attracts the worst people. I titled this blog post to remind myself that there are actual humans that choose to do this. Maybe they’re nice people outside of work. They’re fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins. And they are all complicit to varying degrees in the death of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez. From the ProPublica report, Carlos was
captain of the soccer team and excelled in playing instruments the school had bought by selling raffle tickets. “He played percussion and the bombo and the lyre and the trumpet,” said Jose Morales Pereira, who was Carlos’ teacher. “He always said, ‘Professor, let’s teach everyone else.’ He was my leader.”
I, too, am guilty. Not because I’m a functioning part of the entities that presided over Carlos’s death, but because I’m a beneficiary of neoliberal capitalism and its military caretakers. I’m one of millions who disproportionately consume the world’s resources. I play a role in human misery and ecological destruction, though this is mostly abstracted, obscured and exported to places like Guatemala. It was from there that Carlos left and ultimately returned. At his funeral,
[t]housands of mourners poured in from around the country to follow behind his casket, which was borne by soccer teammates down a long dirt road to the cemetery.
Pallbearers taped his royal blue No. 9 soccer jersey to the top of his casket as they laid it to rest. “Maybe in all of his life, the 16 years that he was in this life, maybe he didn’t do many things, but he did move us,” said a speaker at his funeral. “He touched hearts.”
I hope his death wasn’t in vain. But I’m too skeptical not to think otherwise.