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An Evening Stroll, a Volley of Fire: A Senseless Death in Mexico

Mitra Ebadolahi,
Border Litigation Project Staff Attorney, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties
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July 29, 2014

On the night of October 10, 2012, U.S. Border Patrol agents shot and killed Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. At the time of the shooting, Jose Antonio was unarmed and walking peacefully down a major street in Nogales, Mexico, directly across from the metal border fence separating the United States and Mexico. An autopsy report revealed that Jose Antonio had been struck by 10 bullets, virtually all of which entered his body from behind.

He was sixteen years old.

Jose Antonio’s funeral drew scores of mourners, who along with his family, were outraged at the cross border shooting of an innocent Mexican boy. His grieving mother, Araceli Rodriguez, told reporters that her youngest son dreamed of being a soldier, so he could fight the growing violence in his country.

According to press reports, the U.S. Border Patrol acknowledged that surveillance video of the shooting exits, but the footage has never been publicly released. To this day, we do not know the names of the agent or agents involved in the shooting. As far as we know, not one Border Patrol agent has been disciplined in any way for Jose Antonio’s senseless death.

How can this be? Because the Border Patrol and its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have for years operated without any transparency or accountability to the American public.

Consider these staggering figures: Since 2005, on-duty Border Patrol agents and CBP officers have killed at least 42 people. In 2011-2012 alone, Border Patrol agents caused at least 15 deaths, 13 of which resulted from shootings. The Police Executive Research Forum – a non-profit, nonpartisan police research and policy organization – found last year that CBP had not adopted many law enforcement best practices regarding use of force and concluded that this contributed to agents’ excessive use of force in specific instances.

To hold the Border Patrol accountable for any abuses, take action here.

Meanwhile, the agencies have ignored or summarily dismissed hundreds of allegations of misconduct. This past May, the American Immigration Council released a damning report examining how Border Patrol and CBP responded to complaints of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. The report concluded that CBP officials “rarely take action against the alleged perpetrators of abuse.” On the few occasions when CBP did formally respond to a complaint, the response was “No Action Taken” 97 percent of the time.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, CBP’s new commissioner, recently conceded that the agency needs “to be better at admitting when we’re wrong or where we’ve made a mistake.” Thus far, however, the commissioner has not taken any affirmative action to publicly hold specific Border Patrol agents accountable.

Today the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Border Litigation Project filed a federal lawsuit in Arizona on behalf of Araceli Rodriguez, Jose Antonio’s mother, to vindicate her son’s constitutional and human rights. The case is, at its core, a challenge to the Border Patrol’s unwarranted use of deadly force along the U.S.-Mexico border. Given the federal government’s abysmal track record when it comes to accountability for egregious rights violations, our courts have a critical role to play. They must ensure that innocent children like Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez are not gunned down in cold blood without consequences.

It is time for the Border Patrol’s Age of Impunity to end.

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