The US Border Patrol will continue to use lethal force against people throwing rocks, as well as people inside vehicles—ignoring a set of recommendations from an independent review of lethal-force practices at the agency.
Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher told the Associated Press in an interview that the recommendations were “too restrictive” and that “just to say that you shouldn’t shoot at rock-throwers or vehicles for us, in our environment, was very problematic and could potentially put Border Patrol agents in danger.”
Twenty people have been killed by the Border Patrol since 2010, and last year sixteen members of Congress demanded an investigation into the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who was tased and beaten by Border Patrol agents.
People on the Mexican side of the US border will often toss rocks at agents in order to create a diversion and open space in a nearby border area. The use of deadly force against people throwing rocks is an unfortunately common theme in these deaths; eight of the twenty people killed by the Border Patrol since 2010 were accused of throwing rocks at agents.
The Border Patrol reported 185 rock attacks last year, and in twenty-two cases lethal force was used. Another forty-two times, “less-than-lethal force” was used, which can include batons and pepper spray.
One particular case has galvanized activist anger against the Border Patrol: on October 10, 2012, a 16-year-old Mexican boy was shot eleven times by agents after they allegedly saw him throwing rocks in their direction. An autopsy revealed that all but one shot hit the teenager from behind.
Advocates have blasted Fisher’s decision—and are shifting the ultimate responsibility for fixing the problem to President Obama. “This unacceptable statement from Border Patrol Chief Fisher is another example of the violence and impunity that has become a staple of US Border Patrol,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org.
“Without acting to curb or even question continued and expanded Border Patrol violence, President Obama is effectively giving a license to kill Latinos on both sides of the border,” he continued. “If the president really considers himself a supporter of Latinos at the border and in the country as a whole, he needs to step in to end the irresponsible violence. The president can’t blame Republicans for the murder of innocents by Border Patrol agents he leads as commander in chief.”
The mounting outrage over deaths at the border led to an internal review by the Border Patrol, as well as an independent review by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that advises law enforcement agencies.
But both sets of recommendations have been secret up until this week. When Fisher said he would ignore PERF’s recommendations against using lethal force on rock-throwers, it was the first time anybody outside the agency actually knew what the report said.
Similarly, the Border Patrol review released in September was heavily redacted. Some minimal tweaks to the agency’s policy were announced, including additional training on lethal force for agents, but most of the report’s recommendations looked like this in the public version:
The Border Patrol’s lethal force policies are going to become increasingly relevant—and likely problematic—in the months and years ahead, if comprehensive immigration reform is enacted. The Senate bill passed this summer spends $46 billion on border security and adds 20,000 Border Patrol agents to the US-Mexico border. “This is not only sufficient, it is well over sufficient,” Senator John McCain said of the security measures in June. “We’ll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
“How did the US-Mexican border become the place where the American past chokes on itself?” asks Greg Grandin.