A License to Kill in the Constitution-Free Zone


EspañolLast week, in my hometown of Laredo, Texas — a city resting on the US-Mexico Border — US Border Patrol agents shot and nearly killed a 20-year-old Mexican national, yet another case of the agency’s highly questionable use-of-force policy.

As reported by the Laredo Morning Times in “Border Patrol, undocumented immigrants involved in shooting,” a border patrol agent shot two unauthorized immigrants. One was critically injured, after allegedly “assaulting” the agent. (This article is also evidence of the Hearst daily’s own highly questionable use of misleading and confusing headlines.)

The agent in question received no treatment for any injuries and no weapons were reportedly found on either of the victims. One can reasonably extrapolate that these two unauthorized immigrants were “involved in a shooting” much like victims of a home invasion are “involved in a robbery.”

The Border Patrol’s use of force in this case should be viewed within the context of the agency’s admitted, unabashed, and frighteningly trigger-happy policy. Within the last few years, there have been a remarkable number of documented instances in which agents have fired upon unarmed individuals, or even indiscriminately into crowds — and even when their target had not yet committed the ultimate transgression of attempting to cross the border.

Curiously, many of these cases have involved agents engaging in the use of deadly force after allegedly being confronted, their lives surely threatened, by young men throwing rocks.

In 2010, 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. The agent in this case, claiming self-defense, said he was retaliating to the boy’s “rock throwing.”

Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez
Taide Elena, grandmother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, holds a portrait of Jose Antonio in front of the US-Mexico port of entry in Nogales, Sonora. | Josh Morgan

In October of 2012, Border Patrol agents similarly shot and killed a 16-year-old, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. His crime, worthy of a death sentence? He allegedly flung rocks over the border fence in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, in the direction of agents in Nogales, Arizona.

In late 2012, Vicki Gaubeca, director of the ACLU’s Regional Center for Border Rights in Las Cruces, New Mexico, reported that “at least 16 people have been killed by agents along the Mexico border since 2010, eight in cases where federal authorities said they were being attacked with rocks.”

Indeed, it has been this series of tragic cases that has caused many, including members of Congress, to pause and question the Border Patrol’s policies. It begs the question: why so many instances involving the specific act of “rock throwing”?

In response to the case of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano provided the shocking answer to this quandary in a revealing interview. The official policy of US Border Patrol, in fact, specifically “allows for agents to fire at rock throwers.”

Keep in mind that in both cases — of 15-year-old Guereca and of 16-year-old Rodriguez — video evidence and eye witness testimony exists that contradicts the agency’s account of events and disputes the claim that either victim threw rocks at agents or acted aggressively.

With regard to Rodriguez, an autopsy report has revealed that, contrary to the Border Patrol’s statements, the boy was shot seven times in the back, possibly after having already been downed and laying on the ground.

In other words, should Border Patrol agents ever find themselves in the compromising position of having just fatally wounded one of their targets, they need only allege their victim had at one point tossed a rock in their general direction; it goes down in the agency’s books as yet another justifiable homicide. After perhaps a brief inquiry by the FBI or the Justice Department, no criminal charges against the agent involved are ever filed, their names remain hidden from the public — case closed.

As ACLU representative, Vicki Gaubeca, said in response to the Border Patrol’s extreme use of force, “There has not been a single death of a Border Patrol agent caused by a rock. Why aren’t they doing something to protect their agents, like giving them helmets and shields?”

A perfectly reasonable question, to be sure, but perhaps a far more important question — instead of pondering ways to further arm and supply agents — is why these agents are armed and supplied in the first place. Why are armed guards, with seemingly short fuses and itchy trigger fingers, tasked with patrolling the border to begin with?

The United States’ own unmanageable and unsustainable immigration policy, coupled with an unmanageable and unsustainable “war on drugs,” creates the conditions in which Border Patrol agents routinely get away with murder. And these core issues must be addressed and rethought, should we seek to permanently put an end to the senseless loss of life along the border.

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