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Appropriate Use of Force? Not on our Border

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Just days ago, Sergio Adrián Hernandez Güereca, a 15-year-old from Ciudad Juárez, was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent on the banks of the Rio Grande, not far from downtown El Paso.   The fatal shooting of this teen came on the heels of the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a longtime San Diego area resident and father of five U.S.-born children, who died from injuries suffered when Border Patrol and other federal officers responded with a baton and taser gun when he resisted deportation. His death has been ruled a homicide by the San Diego coroner’s office.  LAWG extends our condolences to both families.

These tragedies illustrate too clearly how our current immigration system fails to meet the realities of our nation’s families and contributes to an increasingly divisive, inhumane, and charged atmosphere for migrants and border communities alike.  Driven by rhetoric and rooted in fear, Congress and recent administrations have turned their backs on real immigration reform and instead chosen to throw more resources in an ill-defined attempt to “secure” the border.  One result has been a Border Patrol that has grown exponentially in recent years – a force that has doubled from “10,000 in 2004 to more than 20,000 in 2009.” Among other concerns, some fear that this fast-paced expansion has come at the cost of efforts to ensure proper training and oversight of agents in the field.

While these incidents are still under investigation by the FBI and other authorities, these tragic deaths from bullets, batons and a taser gun underscore the urgent need for a careful review of the Border Patrol’s use of force policies and practices, as emphasized in a statement by the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights.  Amnesty International states that Monday’s shooting “appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards.”  Such standards include the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials which calls for officials to only use force in proportion to the danger confronting them with the ultimate goal of causing minimal injury and preventing the loss of life.  We join others in pressing for immediate measures to prevent future tragedies, including the implementation of accountability mechanisms and “proper training so that federal agents are able to enforce the laws of the United States without violating anyone’s human rights,” as urged by advocates from the San Diego Human Rights Consortium. 

While we echo Mexican authorities’ calls for the U.S. to engage in a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding both deaths, we also urge President Calderón to bring an end to impunity in the growing number of cases of serious human rights violations–including murder and sexual assault–committed by the military and other security forces in Mexico.  As highlighted in a recent memo issued by LAWG and U.S. and Mexican NGO partners, only a single human rights violation perpetrated since 2007 by a member of the military has resulted in a trial and upheld conviction. None of the numerous allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by the military during President Calderón’s administration have been tried by civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities. And, four years later, 28 women sexually assaulted and tortured by police in San Salvador Atenco are still waiting for justice. 

“Co-responsibility” and a “21st century border” were central themes from President Calderón’s recent trip to the White House.  Let’s match that rhetoric with accountability, transparency and respect for human rights on both sides of the border. 

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