Photo: Wikimedia Commons / DHS

Factoring in the Border Patrol

Should we include the Border Patrol in totals of officer-initiated shootings of Latinos?

by Sabrina Vourvoulias, AL DÍA News Media

Customs and Border Protection, the nation's largest law enforcement agency has 60,000 agents and officers and an annual budget in the billions. It is for all intents and purposes, a well-equipped paramilitary force.

It is also, according to a piece by the L.A. Times from February of this year,  an agency that has received complaints about Border Patrol agents shooting and killing approximately 24 people on the border in the past five years, but has neither prosecuted nor disciplined any of those involved. "Nearly a year after the Obama administration vowed to crack down on Border Patrol agents who use excessive force, no shooting cases have been resolved, no agents have been disciplined, a review panel has yet to issue recommendations, and the top two jobs in internal affairs are vacant." 

Make that 39 people whose deaths are attributable to the CBP say the Southern Border Communities Coalition, an organization which works to ensure that border enforcement policies are accountable and fair. The list the community organization maintains shows that the majority of those killed are Latinos or Mexican nationals, many of them "rock throwers" or unarmed when the fatal shooting takes place.

While we don't tend to think of the Border Patrol the same way we think about police, they employ similar profiling and "reasonable suspicion" protocols that target specific ethnic and racial groups. And as the L.A. Times article indicates, they do it with de facto impunity.

The tremendous disparity of power that fundamentally underpins officer involved shootings in local police forces becomes undeniable in those instances where Border Patrol agents return weapon fire for rocks thrown at them. 

José Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16; Sergio Adrian Hernández Guereca, 15; and Guillermo Arévalo Pedroza, 36, were all fatally shot in different Mexican towns (Nogales, Ciudad Juárez and Nuevo Laredo, respectively) by Border Patrol agents standing on U.S. soil. That the agents shot and killed across international borders led to the families of the three aforementioned Mexican nationals to bring suit against the CBP. Rodriguez's case is being backed by the ACLU; and the Hernández Guereca case is being backed by the Mexican government during a rehearing. An earlier ruling would have permitted the suit to continue against the specific agent involved but not the agent's supervisors or the U.S. government.

The agent who shot and killed Hernández Guereca? Still on the job.

Like their local police counterparts, Border Patrol agents have, in some instances, brutalized suspects in such a manner that death was inevitable. One such instance was the case of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, which was documented in a harrowing PBS investigative video titled Crossing the Line at the Border.

At no moment is it possible to watch that video — nor the bystander/eyewitness videos of Hernández Guereca's and Arévalo Pedroza's killings — without understanding that the Border Patrol's problem is not a few rogue agents, but a failed system where excessive force can go unpunished and impunity is too often assumed.

Philadelphia columnist Solomon Jones marks the parallels between the fatal shootings of Michael Brown by police and of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez by Border Patrol agents: