Border Communities with a Need for Accountable Border Patrol

 

Sixteen year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was gunned down in Nogales, Mexico by a United States Border Patrol agent in October 2012. The agent fired several times through the fence from Nogales, Arizona. The boy was unarmed and shot several times in the back; his family said he had been walking home from a basketball game.

The Border Patrol has insisted that the agent was simply defending himself from rock-throwers on the Mexican side. But a federal grand jury on Wednesday charged the agent with second-degree murder. The indictment lends credence to what Jose Antonio’s family and activists on both sides of the border have long insisted: that this was another senseless killing by a member of an agency notorious for the reckless use of deadly force.

In Jose Antonio’s case the agent’s claim of self-defense would seem unreasonable to anyone who visits the spot in hilly Nogales where the teenager fell. It is hard to imagine him throwing anything across the road, up a 25-foot embankment and then over the fence and hitting, much less hurting, anybody. A major leaguer might be able to hit a baseball that far, but not a 16-year-old boy with a rock.

There are a number of other cases where agents were said to have taken hesitant and lethal action. The Police Executive Research forum released a critical report in 2013 in which it seriously questioned the Border Patrol’s policies on deadly force – it found that agents would deliberately stand in the way of fleeing cars, to justify shooting at them. It urged the agency to put a stop to it and forbid the agents to shoot at people “throwing objects not capable of causing serious physical injury or death to them” – that is, teenagers with rocks.

Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, took office promising greater transparency from his troubled agency, which continues to be dogged by reports of misuse of force and other abuses.