In Uvalde, Texas, the community is reeling after an 18-year-old shooter attacked Robb Elementary School, killing at least 19 children and two teachers. The massacre is one of the country’s deadliest school shootings, following 2012’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, one of the defining tragedies of the current century, when 27 people were killed, including 20 children. As of Wednesday morning, details were still emerging as families in the community waited until late Tuesday night to identify their missing loved ones at the Uvalde Civic Center.
This is the 27th school shooting and the 213th mass shooting in 2022, just 10 days after a white supremacist murdered 10 people at a predominantly Black grocery store in Buffalo, New York. The Uvalde shooting has devastated the community, where 72.7% are Latinx, and 90% of the school’s 574 students are Latinx. Seventy-three percent of students at the school are on free or reduced lunch, and 25% are English learners. In the wake of perpetual gun violence at the expense of civilian lives, advocates are calling for gun control and actionable plans to protect the country’s most vulnerable.
“We grieve with the people of Uvalde, a predominantly Latinx community,” said José Alfaro, the Everytown director of Latinx leadership and community engagement, in a statement. “School is the last place where kids should have to worry about gun violence, especially when they include members of my community that immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better, safer life.”
According to reports, Customs Border Patrol was on the scene, with about 80 agents among the first to arrive when the shooter was still active. In Uvalde, which is near the U.S.-Mexico border, Border Patrol agents were already near the scene and responded to law enforcement request for assistance. While the Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement saying the site of the Uvalde tragedy is a “protected site” and they will not be enforcing immigration removals, for many undocumented and immigrant people in the Uvalde community, 10% of which are foreign-born, the presence of CBP could trigger a fight or flight response, adding surmounting trauma of deportation and removal to an already traumatic experience.
“Uvalde, Texas is a predominantly Latinx and immigrant community. To have CBP, an agency whose mission is to terrorize immigrants and people of color, present after the shooting at Robb Elementary School shooting is unconscionable,” said Cynthia Garcia, the community protection program director of United We Dream. “While parents and families were waiting to reunite with their children, many fearing the worst, CBP’s presence only made their fears and anxieties worse, especially for those who may have been undocumented and vulnerable to being detained or deported.”
William Lopez, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health who researches fear and immigration, said the sight of border patrol elicits fear in people, even when they’re told CBP is there to support them.
“This is a logical response because the border patrol’s job is to remove people,” said Lopez, who is from San Antonio, just an hour outside of Uvalde. “The reality is it is highly unlikely they were actually there to deport people. But, ‘highly unlikely’ is not reassuring when you’re the one who could potentially be deported. At a very minimum, undocumented parents will be at least worrying to approach the school. Am I arguing that they won’t approach the school or didn’t approach the school? Perhaps not. But nonetheless, the fear of the possibility of something so deeply ingrained that ‘I may be deported’ is simply trauma upon trauma.”
Lopez also adds that since CBP agents are part of the Uvalde community, it is possible they may have also lost children in the shooting.
“This is absolutely tragic, I mourn for every single child lost,” Lopez said. “Again, as a public health professional, I care about every death and everyone connected to them as well as a parent, a Latino, and a Texan. But this doesn’t change people’s reaction to seeing those who are employed to remove them from the country.”
Lopez hopes that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, President Joe Biden, and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin make it clear that immigration enforcement will not happen and that there should not be any deportations coming from this.
“This community needs to heal and to trust these organizations to be able to explain what’s happening, but also to not fear another kind of removal,” Lopez said. “Deportation upon death is not how a community will heal.”
Abbott, who is scheduled to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston this week, signed seven gun laws in June, one of which allows people to legally carry handguns without licenses. Tony Gonzales, who represents the 23rd congressional district of Texas, which includes Robb Elementary School, has likewise voted “no” on two gun control measures in March 2021.
“I absolutely think Abbott should take a stand on gun control,” Lopez said. “His constituents are being killed in school because of his inability to take a stand on gun control. We don’t need him to make a complicated intellectual policy argument at this moment. We just need him to have a little bit of leadership and courage about where we need to go with this before there’s just more people in his state killed. All of the places that our community goes to for healing—our places of worship, our places to buy food, and our schools—are the sites of killings. Communities cannot operate in this way.”
In response to the tragedy, family members of victims have set up GoFundMe donation pages to assist with funeral expenses and anything else the families may need. One of the fundraisers is for the family of fourth-grade teacher, Irma Garcia, and another is for the family of fourth-grader Xavier Lopez. VictimsFirst, a network of families of the deceased and survivors from over two decades of previous mass shootings, also started a fund to ensure that 100% of what is collected goes directly to the victim base. The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District announced today that they have opened a Robb School Memorial Fund for families of the elementary school.
Texans who wish to help are also being asked to donate blood at The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center or University Health Hospital. People outside of Texas are being urged to donate to GoFundMe pages, or if you are a mental health expert, contact Rep. Gonzales to coordinate support for those impacted by the tragedy.