The Face of Uvalde

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A teenage gunman armed with an assault rifle savagely extinguished the lives of 19 schoolchildren and two of their teachers for over an hour in the most militarized region of the most powerful country in the world.

Nearby, in the waters and on the banks of the Rio Grande (Río Bravo), equivalent numbers of human beings, including small children, lose their lives every day, often in full view of those same militarized forces.

On May 24, 2022, a high school student in the small town of Uvalde, Texas committed a heinous crime. Factoring in a preceding half hour during which the teen shot his grandmother, drove off in a truck and crashed into a tree, crossed elementary school grounds carrying an AR-15 rifle, fired, according to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, “more than 100 rounds” into the school’s windows before gaining access to the building and then the classroom he decimated, at least 90 minutes of public criminal offenses had elapsed before 80 United States CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) agents from the agency’s heavily armed BORTAC (Border Patrol Tactical Unit) intervened and killed him.

Uvalde sits at 54 miles (87 km) from the Rio Grande (Río Bravo) river that cuts Eagle Pass, Texas from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. With a population of 16,000, Uvalde hosts a Walmart and an immigrant detention facility. Latinx people make up at least 80% of the town’s counted inhabitants, and per capita income is less than $12,000 a year. According to the 2020 US Census, 10% of residents were born abroad, and 70% of those persons are not citizens.


Texas Director of Public Safety (DPS) Steven McCraw flanked by aides at a press conference about the Uvalde incident on Friday, May 27, 2022.

Uvalde is also a town where “migrants are released”. The border at Piedras Negras-Eagle Pass is currently the major point of congregation for people fleeing abject misery in their home countries. Hondurans, Haitians, and Venezuelans are trekking from the Mexican-Guatemalan border, escaping countries that vie for the highest murder rate in the world, to cross the river separating Mexico from the United States. Honduras was decimated by back-to-back, record-breaking hurricanes, and Haiti was crippled by monstrous earthquakes in 2021 and 2010, the staggering debt imposed by France and the United States for a century preventing its recovery.

In 2019, Border Patrol announced it would start releasing 25 migrants per day in Uvalde because of overcrowding in immigrant detention centers in Eagle Pass, and as of March 2022, the number is 150. Uvalde’s conservative Mayor Don McLaughlin, who was elected unopposed in 2014 and reelected by a handful of votes since then, pays for buses to San Antonio out of town and county coffers.

McLaughlin is the contentious politician who shouted “You sick son of a b*tch” at Beto O’Rourke at a press conference led by Texas Governor Greg Abbott following the school massacre. After being evicted from the hall for interrupting the meeting, O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger to Republican Abbott in the upcoming gubernatorial election, decried the lack of funding in Texas for healthcare, as well as the state’s permissive gun laws.

But it’s not just healthcare that Texas refuses to pay for. Schools throughout the United States are funded by property taxes, which are not high in a town like Uvalde. And those scant funds are also stretched to pay for Uvalde’s minimal school police force, which numbers only six officers. The chief of those officers is now being vilified for his halting response to the massacre.

Additionally, Texas is a major proponent of the federal DHS (Department of Homeland Security) 287(g) program, which obligates local police to cooperate with and support the work of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the part of DHS that pursues and captures immigration offenders. The program costs localities tens of millions of dollars annually. Uvalde is not signatory to the program, but its small police force is dwarfed by the presence of CPB, another arm of DHS.

On May 1, Fox News reporters witnessed the drowning of 53-year-old Calixto Rojas of Nicaragua, another country suffering from the recent hurricanes, which they broadcast on their network.  On May 13, the Mexican National Migration Institute says the country has recovered 19 bodies in the river. Kevin Blass Cardoza, who drowned on May 19, was not in that count. On May 21, the body of a man wearing jeans and a green striped shirt was pulled by Piedras Negras authorities from the river. Three days ago, on May 26, a woman and three children, aged 4, 12, and 16, drowned as they were attempting to cross at this juncture with three other adults. All Hondurans. Over the weekend of May 28-29, U.S. Border Patrol found another 11 persons who had died of drowning and dehydration on Saturday, and an additional person who had suffered the same fate on Sunday.


Honduran woman who witnessed the drowning of a woman and three children in Piedras Negras.

Danica Jorden is a writer and translator of Spanish, Portuguese, French and other languages.

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