Even as immigration wanes, shootings continue on the U.S.-Mexico border
Unconfirmed footage of a man killed Monday by U.S. Border Patrol on the banks of the Rio Grande.
By TED HESSON
In recent years, studies show that net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has slowed to nearly nothing, and perhaps even reversed. Yet the border remains fraught with tension and militarism, as evinced by the fatal shooting of a Mexican man by a U.S. Border Patrol agent on Monday in the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo.
Fox Latino reports:
A Border Patrol agent riding in a boat on the Rio Grande shot Guillermo Arévalo Pedroza, 36, two times, once in the chest and once in the leg, according to the Laredo Morning Times. His family said he was at the park grilling fajitas.
Arévalo Pedroza died at a clinic from the gunshot wound to the lung, Mexican wire service Notimex reports.
The Border Patrol, however, said the agent fired because his unit was “subjected to rocks being thrown at them from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.”
“All appropriate authorities were notified and the shooting is under investigation by the FBI,” the Border Patrol’s statement adds.
A video allegedly capturing the lead-up and aftermath of the shooting was posted to YouTube earlier this week, but its authenticity remains unconfirmed:
The shooting occurred in the period between the two political conventions in the U.S., where immigration represented a sizable portion of the respective dialogues.
But while both parties addressed the issue with a clear goal of appealing to the Latino electorate, neither broached the subject of border militarization, even though both Democratic and Republican party platforms focus on border security, with heavier rhetoric around border spending from the GOP.
The FBI and Border Patrol are investigating Monday’s killing, but prosecutions in such shootings are rare. In July, the Tucson Sentinel spoke about the problem with Edward Rheinheimer, county attorney in Arizona’s Cochise County:
These cases are tough to prove, for reasons ranging from contested facts to politics, he and other legal experts said. But as the number of civilian deaths involving border agents rises — from one four years ago to five last year — it’s not just human rights activists who believe there should be more accountability and oversight.
George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing 17,000 Border Patrol agents and support staff, believes reforms leading to fewer fatal shootings by the Border Patrol are in order.
“If our employees are being put in positions where this is going to be a semi-normal action then we need to rethink as an agency how we’re doing business out there,” he said.
The weaponization of border has led to border patrol casualties, as well. Just yesterday, Mexican police arrested a man in connection with the 2010 fatal shooting of border patrol agent Brian Terry. At the scene of the crime, authorities found guns linked to “Operation Fast and Furious,” a botched U.S. government plan that allowed criminals to purchase firearms and bring them into Mexico, with the hopes that tracking the weapons would lead to high-level drug trafficking arrests.
“Operation Fast and Furious,” blamed in the 2010 death of a border patrol agent, used a controversial strategy known as “gunwalking,” where criminals are allowed to purchase weapons in the hopes that tracking will lead to higher-priority arrests.
After Monday’s shooting, the Mexican government balked at the disproportionate use of force employed by border patrol agents against rock throwers. Agents consider such attacks justification for lethal force, and rocks assaults happen often: there were roughly 500 of them along the Southwest border last year.
Still, the most recent fatality further cements a worrisome trend. Killings of civilians by border patrol agents is on the rise in recent years, as Roxana Popescu of the Texas Observer reports:
A months-long collaborative investigation among nonprofit newsrooms in California, Texas and New York examined fatal confrontations with border agents and found that at least 14 civilians died, most shot, since Oct. 1, 2009. This is despite declines in both illegal immigration and assaults on officers.
Border Patrol agents have been prosecuted for crimes in recent years including corruption, bribery and improper arrests, but rarely for situations involving lethal force.
Even in cases where a video has captured an altercation at the border, there are generally distinct differences in what witnesses and law enforcement say happened. These cases balance the word of agents against the silence of the dead, and invoke self-defense protections in ways that are hard to challenge legally.
“Most of their encounters occurred out in the wilderness, if you will,” said Peter Nunez, former U.S. Attorney in San Diego. “There’s no camera, there’s no citizens roaming around, you have almost no way to verify anybody’s story.”