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Guatemalan Woman's Death Symbolizes Risks Migrants Take To Get To The U.S.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The body of a young Guatemalan woman, a migrant shot by a Border Patrol agent near Laredo, Texas, last month, was returned to Guatemala for a burial service this weekend. Video of the shooting has raised questions about why the agent fired on the woman. Maria Martin reports from Guatemala that, since her death, 20-year-old Claudia Patricia Gomez has become a symbol.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA MARTIN, BYLINE: Claudia Patricia Gomez was laid to rest in La Madre Tierra, the Mother Earth worshipped by the Mayans in her community of San Juan Ostuncalco. A steady rain fell on the hundreds of grieving community members as her white plastic coffin was laid in the ground, and family, friends and neighbors mourned what they'd lost.

REGINO MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: Claudia’s cousin Regino Mendez recalled the 20-year-old as a friendly, respectful and dedicated girl - a role model for other youth, he says.

ROSA MARIA VICENTE: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: She had so many dreams in front of her, says her neighbor Rosa Maria Vicente - so much to contribute to her community and to the future.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Mam).

MARTIN: Whether they spoke in the Mayan dialect Mam or in Spanish, those who came to pay their respects to Claudia spoke about the poverty and the necessity that drove her and drive so many Guatemalans to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Mam).

MARTIN: Even though she'd graduated from a vocational course in accounting, Claudia couldn't find work. This is the case for 8 out of 10 young Guatemalans entering the job market each year. Mourner Eduardo Jimenez is himself a former migrant.

EDUARDO JIMENEZ: We leave our community not to take the North Americans' job, as they say. We leave our country. We leave our family. We leave everything here to go and to look for a better future. So we put our lives in the desert. We put our lives in the hands of the organized crime in Mexico and in the United States at the border. So we're here struggling because in our country there is no hope.

GILBERTO GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: Claudia's father Gilberto Gomez, like a large percentage of this indigenous community, lived undocumented in the U.S. for a number of years. He was deported a year ago. Now he says he wants justice for his daughter's death.

GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: Gilberto says justice would be for the person responsible to pay for what he's done - for him to feel the pain the family is now suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: Many of the mourners thanked Marta Martinez, the neighbor along the border in Texas who videotaped the shooting's aftermath. Now the whole world knows what happened to Claudia, says Rosa Maria Vicente.

VICENTE: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: Because of Claudia's death, she says the message has gone out around the world - that there be no more killings of brothers and sisters at the border. For NPR News, I'm Maria Martin in San Juan Ostuncalco, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "PERFECT INSTANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.