There’s nothing more idyllic than rural areas along the border in Baja California and San Diego County. Yellow blossoms blanket the ground for miles in the springtime, and once outside of the dense colonias of Tijuana, sleepy little settlements of a few homes are scattered here and there around Tecate.
Yet, if you talk to a border patrol agent, you get a very different picture. The “bad guys” are everywhere, and if you don’t see them, that’s because “the threat” is not noticeable to untrained observers.
We may commend the border patrol for their perpetual vigilance, yet the growing number of incidents of border patrol murders of migrants in the past two years raises questions about the efficacy of these security ideologies and practices.
An episode of the public television program “Need to Know” will take on the issue of border patrol brutality on Friday, April 20, 2013. The episode features video footage of the murder of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, killed by the border patrol at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on May 28, 2010. The death was ruled a homicide by the San Diego coroner’s office, but the agents were never prosecuted nor removed from their posts for this crime.
It’s worth asking then, just how does the border patrol look at the border?
According to former San Diego Sector Chief Michael Fisher, Customs and Border Protection uses a “risk-based approach to protecting America,” operationalized through formulae measuring the intent and capability of potential wrong-doers to determine threat. Then threat and vulnerability are calculated to determine a measurable quantity of “risk” in a particular location.
This new militarized border becomes a “theater of operations” for the border patrol, an example of a whole set of new military practices, doctrines and a norms manifesting the “metaphorization of war as the boundless and perpetual condition of urban societies,” writes Stephen Graham in his work on the “new military urbanism.”
Rather than protecting human rights, Graham argues, the agents of state power use technologies of identification, surveillance and tracking to preemptively sort and separate people into categories–in advance of any violation of the law. Movements deemed “malign” are separated from “valuable” movements, and individuals are lumped together in “risk” categories “based on anticipation of their likelihood to resist, commit violence, disruption or resistance.”
Perhaps this is the training that Fisher was referring to: bad guys are produced through the calculation of threat and risk. Without this special training, you might imagine that people are just people. You might even think that human rights are universal.
It is clear from the comments of the families and communities of the victims of border patrol violence that the new “risk-based approach to protecting America” has a high price. Communities on the border don’t feel they can trust the border patrol, and they don’t feel that the border patrol is protecting them.
And it is worth asking: if the border patrol and communities are not working together, then how secure are we really?
The new military technologies pose a challenge to those of us concerned with human rights, democracy, and the future of peaceful urban life, notes Graham. But one thing we can do is renew our call for respect for human rights, for the rule of law, to bring justice home.
Watch the trailer of “First look: Crossing the line” and catch the full episode on your local Public Television station on Friday, April 20.
UPDATE: Since this episode of Need to Know aired on April 20, 2102 the story of the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the hands of border patrol agents has garnered national attention. A grand jury was convened on July 12, 2012 to investigate the incident.
And let’s remember the lives that were cut short by border patrol brutality.
Anastasio Hernández Rojas On May 28, 2010, Anastasio Hernández Rojas, a 42-year old construction worker, husband, father of five US-citizen children, and long-time resident of San Diego, CA, was brutally beaten, repeatedly shot with a taser while handcuffed, and killed as a result by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego. Border patrol agents claimed they were attempting to control the man as they were processing him for deportation. A new video of the incident has surfaced, revealing that Hernandez was handcuffed and lying on the ground as he was brutally beaten and shocked repeatedly with a taser. This violent beating occurred around 9 PM at a busy time at the crossing. As Hernández Rojas pleaded for his life, witnesses begged the border patrol to stop the beating. The man’s death was ruled a homicide. After two years of community outcry, protests, and countless meetings with the Border Patrol leadership , Border Patrol has taken no known action against the agents involved.
Jorge Alfredo Solís Palma On January 4, 2010, Jorge Alfredo Solís Palma, a 28-year-old from the eastern Mexico state of Veracruz, was shot and killed by a border patrol agent near Douglas, Arizona, in Cochise County approximately a half mile from the border. Early in the morning of January 4, Border Patrol agents patrolling with a dog came upon Solís hiding under a tree. According to the report, when Solís refused to come out, he threw rocks at the agents and their dog, and Border Patrol agent Miguel Torres Vásquez shot his weapon twice at Solís. Solís died of the gunshot wounds on route to the hospital in Tucson.
Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca On the afternooon of June 7, 2010, 15-year-old teenager Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca was shot at close range by a Border Patrol agent on Puente Negro on one side of Puente de Santa Fe, the bridge that separates Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. According to news reports, the autopsy revealed that the teen died of a gunshot wound to the face. After a year of stonewalling by the border patrol, the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the agent. The family’s attorney noted in a statement that the boy “had no weapon and was no imminent threat to the officer.” Witnesses told a grand jury that the boy was an innocent bystander. The boy was buried the Thursday after his death, dressed in the green soccer jersey of the Deportivo Mayitos, the team he played for. “I believe this was a murder of hate and racism against Mexicans,” noted Sergio’s mother, affirming the sentiments of the community. Shortly after the murder, a blanket with a message scrawled on it in the style of murders by narcotraffickers, appeared hanging on the bridge: “Border Patrol, we are worried about the violence in Mexico, and now you!! Murderers. Viva Mexico.”
Ramsés Barrón Torres On January 5, 2011 Border Patrol agents opened fire and killed 17-year-old teenager Ramsés Barrón Torres as he was climbing over the border wall between the sister cites of Nogales, Sonora/Arizona. The boy died at 3 AM in Nogales, and according to an incident report by the Sonoran State Investigative Police, the boy was dropped off at the emergency room at the Hospital General in Sonora by three men in a red pickup with Arizona licence plates. The men reported witnessing the incident, a shot fired by border patrol agents that hit the boy, knocking him over the wall where he fell to the ground bleeding from the gunshot wound.
Carlos La Madrid On March 21, 2011, Carlos La Madrid, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen and resident of Arizona, was shot three times in the back and killed as he was climbing the border wall and attempting to cross the border into Mexico. The border patrol agent claimed to have fired his weapon in self-defense, reporting that La Madrid was throwing rocks at him. Just east of Douglas, Arizona in Cochise County, La Madrid was driving a truck fleeing south toward the border with another teen, 17-year-old Jesus Manuel Chino Lino. La Madrid abandoned the truck and was climbing the border wall when he was shot. Lino was taken into custody by Cochise County Sheriff’s department and booked as an adult on charges of marijuana possession when officials found 48 pounds of marijuana in their truck. “There is no logical reason for the death of my son. I want justice, I want that person who hurt my son to pay like any of us,” La Madrid’s mother Guadalupe Guerrero said in an interview. “If my son carried drugs they should have put him on trial, give him a chance.”
José Alfredo Yáñez Reyes On Tues, June 21, 2011 José Alfredo Yáñez Reyes, 40-year-old tile & construction worker, was shot and killed by a border patrol agent at about 7:30 PM while climbing on the border fence near Dairy Mart Road, San Diego & Zona Norte, Tijuana. Border patrol agents were in pursuit of three men, who were crossing the border wall just west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. When one of the men resisted arrest, another threw a rock and a piece of wood, hitting one agent in the head. A border patrol agent opened fire on Yañez as he was atop the border wall, and he fell and died on the Tijuana side in Zona Norte. According to an interview with Yañez’s wife by a reporter from the newspaper San Diego Red, minutes before the incident, Yañez was with his wife Mayra Paredes Nino and their four-month-old baby and was there to pick up his car from an impound lot. Husband & father of a new baby, Yáñez was originally from Sinaloa, but lived for years in Ensenada, where he was buried on June 25, 2011.
José Antonio Elena Rodríguez On the night of October 10, 2012, a Border Patrol agent in Nogales, Arizona fired at least 14 shots from his assault rifle into Nogales, Sonora. 16-year old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was hit twice in the head and four times in the chest and was killed. The Border Patrol claimed the agent fired in self-defense after rocks were thrown at agents who were pursuing two drug smugglers. Yet from the beginning there were questions about the veracity of the story, the story did not add up. José Antonio’s mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Border Patrol.
Valerie Munique Tachiquin-Alvarado On September 28, 2012 a plain-clothed Border Patrol agent shot and killed Tachiquin in a residential suburb of San Diego. The agent alleged she had struck him and was carrying him on top of her car prompting him to fire in self defense. Witnesses tell conflicting stories. The border agent involved had a very troubling record when he worked as a sheriff’s deputy. The Imperial Valley Sheriff’s Department ultimately issued the agent a notice of termination for “unprofessional conduct, dishonesty, violation of or refusal to obey reasonable regulations, insubordination, violation of rules, incompetence and failure to follow proper procedures for arrest, search and seizure and treatment of persons in custody.”
Click here for a complete list of Border Patrol killings since 2010.
And if you want justice for Anastasio and his family, please sign this petition to Bring Justice Home: Demand respect for life from Border Patrol calling for an investigation into the deaths of Anastasio and the others.