Anger, But No Shock at Border Patrol Shooting of Teen
Posted at 7:35 PM, Jun 08, 2010
Last night a 14-year-old boy named Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca on the Mexican side of the El Paso-Juarez border was shot and killed by a Border Patrol officer, who was on the U.S. side. Reports of the actual exchange vary; the FBI has called the incident an “assault” on the Border Patrol officer, while others have focused on the death of the unarmed boy.
The shooting happened at 6:30 Monday night beneath the Puente Negro, an international bridge that crosses the Rio Grande. A group of teenagers who were trying to enter the United States were caught by Border Patrol, and depending on who you talk with, were either trying to escape from Border Patrol officers or were throwing rocks at them and assaulting them.
“It is clear to us that Border Patrol agents do not use restraint,” said Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the El Paso immigrant rights group Border Network for Human Rights. “We’re talking about a kid here.”
“We see a lot of rookie agents, because we are massively enforcing the border,” Garcia added. “There are now 20,000 Border Patrol agents, and they are not being trained well to respect the lives of people.”
Garcia’s group is demanding a swift, thorough investigation to hold the agency and its officers responsible, but added that the problem stemmed from a larger, systemic policy issue. “We are holding the Obama administration accountable,” he said. “Unfortunately, Obama is playing with politics. They have been exacerbating reality at the border.”
Last week, President Obama announced that he will be sending an extra $500 million and 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. According to the El Paso Times, of that $500 million, $200 million will go toward communication technology for law enforcement at the border. Another $50 million will go toward Operation Stonegarden, an initiative meant to combat violence at the border and the trafficking of firearms. The plan would set aside $170 million for hiring Customs and Border Protection agents, $32 million toward hiring 207 more Border Patrol agents, and $40 million would be dedicated to training them.
Obama's defended the plan as a strategy to fight violent crime along the border, thwart potential terrorists' entry into the country and capture immigrants who are trying to cross the border. Except that with the indiscriminate and growing militarization of the border, undocumented immigrants are equated with drug runners, who are then all equated with terrorists. The result has been an increased crackdown on border crossers with no violent record.
According to the pro-immigration think tank, the Immigration Policy Center, the federal government spends most of its time prosecuting low-level immigration crimes for first-time offenders who enter the country without papers. The much-feared drug traffickers only account for 16 percent of the total number of federal prosecutions these days.
And yet, the hysterical calls for more troops continues unabated from political opportunists like Sen. John McCain, who is expected to demand 6,000 more troops for the border.
According to Garcia, there is a disconnect between the reality of border life and the tenor of the national debate. "The farther you are from the border, the more chaotic it can look like," he said. "They have created an artificial reality, and they are discussing it with artifical arguments, and proposing artificial solutions."
Maria Jimenez, a longtime organizer who works with the Houston-based immigrant rights group America Para Todos, said last night's incident was not surprising, given the rapid pace of the militarization of the border that afforded little time for proper training of Border Patrol officers. And even though regular increases in security spending and troop escalations at the border are now routine, "the systems to hold the Border Patrol accountable for misconduct have not [been expanded]," said Jimenez.
"The Department of Homeland Security continues to operate with disregard for human rights and the civil rights consequences of the people that are being policed," Jimenez said.
Jimenez said that Sergio Hernandez's death is just one of many that occur every year--she recalled a year in the 1990's when Border Patrol agents were responsible for 33 unwarranted shootings. "Some of them we don't even know about, they just don't reach the public," Jimenez said. "They know about it, but we don't."
"Traditionally, the historical experience of unjustified shootings by Border Patrol have never turned the tide in terms of policy makers in D.C. deciding something has to be done about officer misconduct or about systems of redress," said Jimenez. "What one learns is that the undocumented person, or the person on the other side of the border, is not seen as a human being by the general public. As a result, the lack of any popular swell of outcry for accountability of this agency is what simply allows it to persist."
"You can say it was an unfortunate incident, but it's happened twice in two weeks," said Garcia, referring to the shooting death of 32-year-old Anastacio Hernandez on May 26. A Border Patrol officer shot Anastacio Hernandez with a stun gun in San Ysidro, California, near the city's border with Tijuana. A San Diego coroner has ruled his death a homicide.
Over a hundred people gathered on both sides of the border last week to protest Anastacio Hernandez's death. Mexican President Felipe Calderon issued a statement condemning the stun gun shooting as a "truly unacceptable" human rights violation.
"A death with that degree of violence is a truly unacceptable violation," Calderon said in his statement. "We need to raise all our voices, not only for Mexico but for human rights, because the cause of migrants is a cause that affects us all."
Garcia said Anastacio Hernandez's funeral is scheduled for tomorrow.