Since 2010, at least 16 civilians have been killed by Border Patrol agents along the US-Mexico border. Many of those killed were involved in throwing rocks at agents during confrontations with border smugglers.
Yet, since September, there have been three persons killed by agents – including the young mother of 5 who was a US citizen right here in Chula Vista. The three also include 16-year-old suspected rock thrower from Nogales.
But it was the 2010 taser-linked death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas here at San Ysidro that pushed 16 members of Congress to urge a review of how border patrol agents use deathly force. After a video surfaced showing a customs officer in San Diego using a Taser on Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who later died of a heart attack, some Congressional members were moved to act and send their letter to the Inspector General.
Border Patrol officials claimed that Rojas had methamphetamine in his system and was resisting deportation to Tijuana. Advocates say – plus the video shows – that Rojos was handcuffed and pleading for his life when the agent used a tasesr on him. (Go here to an article where the video is located.)
The letter urges the Inspector General to determine whether the Hernandez incident is “emblematic of a broader cultural problem within CBP.”
Other fatal confrontations were also questioned in terms of sufficient investigations. The Congressional letter stated:
There are serious problems raised by this series of deaths tied to the department, and the fact that there did not appear to be an effort by the department to fully investigate the incidents.
Bob Filner – candidate for San Diego mayor – was one of the letter’s signees; others included Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-East Los Angeles), Joe Baca (D-Rialto) and Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles). Supposedly the investigation began a couple of months ago and the report is not expected until sometime next year.
The Department of Homeland Security announced that it is now reviewing guidelines for use of force by border agencies, as a response to the letter. The review by Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General will look at and decide if the San Ysidro incident with Rojas “reflected systemic brutality or use of excessive force, and whether the rapid rise in staffing in recent years has affected training.”
According to agency’s guidelines, lethal force use by agents is permitted in such situations where rocks and other projectiles are being thrown as they have caused serious injuries. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a recent statement:
“CBP law enforcement personnel are trained to use deadly force in circumstances that pose a threat to their lives, the lives of their fellow law enforcement partners and innocent third parties.”
Border patrol critics argue that rocks being met by bullets is a huge disproportionate amount of force. Those critics and other human rights advocates and civil rights organizations see the Inspector General’s review as positive, and a move away from what they perceive as a “culture of impunity”, as most agents involved in fatal incidents in recent years have been cleared of wrongdoing.
This review could very well be the first time that the agency has come under such scrutiny in recent years. The LA Times stated that “The inquiry was not announced publicly, but was included in the inspector general’s annual performance plan, which was released Oct. 4.”
The self-defense claims by agents in those incidents where death has occurred, are questioned by critics, “as some of the suspects have been shot in the back, or from such long distances that their rock throwing wouldn’t have posed a serious threat, they say. Mexican government officials said one man shot on the banks of the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo was picnicking with his family.”
Christian Ramirez, human rights director at Southern Border Communities Coalition, an immigrant advocacy group, stated:
“Knowingly hiring bad apples, having a policy of shooting first and asking questions later, being accountable to no one, all point to an agency that is out of control.”
One of those “bad apples” appears to be the agent who shot and killed Valeria Alvarado back in September in Chula Vista. Her family is filing a wrongful-death claim against the agent and his employer. Agent Justin Tackett had a long history of misconduct before being employed with the U.S. Border Patrol; he had been suspended four times for misconduct by the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department – and as he was about to be fired, he quit. The agent shot Valeria – a US Citizen – 9 times.
All of this has not gone un-noticed worldwide. The top United Nations human rights official said the United States has used excessive force against immigrants along the Mexican border and should cooperate in investigating border killings, including those of many young people. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news conference:
“There have been very many young people, teenagers, who have been killed at the border. The reports reaching me are that there has been excessive use of force by the U.S. border patrols while they are enforcing the immigration laws.”
The border area has always been a lawless region, but is more so when agents hired to patrol the border contribute to the lawlessness.