For three years, OneAmerica community organizers had been hearing about the fear and mistrust border residents harbored toward U.S. Border Patrol. Residents living in Snohomish, Whatcom, and Skagit counties were too afraid to go to the courthouse to pay a fine, too mistrustful of the authorities to call 911, or too fearful to leave their home to attend church or go to the grocery store.
How could they become active participants in their communities if they were too scared to leave home?
Organizers interviewed residents in their homes, at work, and in church. We researched and observed how U.S. Border Patrol’s funding soared, its jurisdiction crept further and further inland, and how its role in the community became virtually indistinguishable from local police and 911 emergency service personnel.
OneAmerica compiled this research into a report and, in April 2012, released The Growing Human Rights Crisis on the Northern Border, which truly demonstrates the transformation of these border communities in the wake of the post-9/11 buildup of U.S. Border Patrol activity in the area.
The report shares the findings from 109 on-the-ground interviews with mothers, fathers, workers, and students. The majority of stories are marked by fear, mistrust, harassment, and abuse. They are rooted in specific—and avoidable—patterns of practice implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), working in close coordination with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies.
First, in its own independent operations, the Border Patrol engages in systematic profiling of religious and ethnic minorities.
Second, collaboration between Border Patrol and other agencies, including local law enforcement, emergency responders, and the courts, results in a confusing and dangerous fusion where vital services are perceived as immigration enforcement.
Third, these first two patterns result in a third: U.S. Border Patrol’s behavior and dangerous partnerships with other agencies have created extensive fear and mistrust, leading to community members’ unwillingness to call 911, access the courts, and even to leave their house to attend worship services or fulfill basic needs.
We believe firmly that we must not trade away our rights for security. Documenting what is happening allows us to educate our policy makers so we can push together to change the situation. Our report offers policy recommendations aimed at correcting these wrongs while still protecting our borders, improving the ability for CBP to carry out its mission, and protecting the safety and rights of all who live in these communities.
This report is the product of a unique three-way partnership between OneAmerica, theUniversity of Washington Center for Human Rights, and the residents and leaders of these border communities. It culminates the first stage of a long process of organizing, educating, and empowering northern border communities to defend their human rights.
The loss of life is always tragic, though sometimes necessary and unavoidable. The loss of a young life when completely unnecessary and completely avoidable is about as tragic as it gets.
Sergio Adrian Hernandez Güereca, 15, was a high school student in Juarez, the border town directly across the river from El Paso, the youngest child in a family of 5 and a good student. On Monday, Sergio was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent who thought it was appropriate to respond to rocks thrown at him by shooting his gun several times at a group of kids where the rocks were coming from. Sergio was shot in the head. The agent was not injured.
According to various news sources Sergio and a group of teens had tried to cross the border at a dry aqueduct adjacent to the international bridge. The teens were spotted by the Border Patrol, which was really inevitable considering the sheer quantity of agents guarding our border. The agents chased the kids and managed to capture two. The others continued running to the Mexican side of the border. From there, they threw rocks at the agents.
The teens were playing a kind of “cat-and-mouse game,” said Bobbie McDow, 52, a U.S. national who said she witnessed the shooting from the middle of the bridge where she was standing. The teenagers, Ms. McDow said, appeared to be trying to make it to the U.S. side and quickly back to Mexico without being caught by officials, a pattern that Ms. McDow said she has noticed.
One of the youths—not the young Mr. Hernández—had thrown rocks at the border patrol agents, Ms. McDow said, but she stressed that the agent’s “life wasn’t under threat.”
Ms. McDow’s husband, Raul Flores, 52, a Mexican national, also said he witnessed the incident. Mr. Flores said the teenager who was shot had stepped out from behind a pillar on the Mexican side of the border with his hands in the air. The agent and the teenager “had four seconds to look at each other” before the young man was shot, first in the shoulder and then in the head, he said.
The details provided by these witnesses are incredibly disturbing. In what world is ok to respond to a group of teenagers throwing rocks by shooting indiscriminately into that group not knowing who your target is, not knowing if your bullet will strike an innocent?
The most recent update by the Associated Press unveils even more disturbing news:
Hernandez was found 20 feet (six meters) into Mexico, and an autopsy revealed that the fatal shot was fired at a relatively close range, according to Arturo Sandoval, a spokesman for the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office. Mexican authorities said a .40 caliber shell casing was found near the body, suggesting that the Border Patrol agent might have crossed into Mexico to shoot the boy.
In my previous career, I spent 7 years on the cop beat in Texas, including more than two spent on the border where I also covered Border Patrol. One of the most maddening aspects of reporting on any federal agency is the inaccessibility to information. If this had been done by a local police officer, we would by now at least know his name and some of the officer’s history. With Border Patrol, it might be a long while before the details of this death are known.
Nothing about this story makes sense, and everything about it makes me nauseous. Why would a trained officer shoot a gun at a group of people? Why would a trained officer not know how to diffuse rock throwers without resorting to deadly force? The El Paso area is flooded with immigration agents. Why not call for back up?
Even if the worst allegations made against this boy were true – that he was trying to cross illegally, that he threw rocks at the agent – none justify the result. I would like to know the history of this Border Patrol agent. Is he one of the recent hires, hires made during a historic expansion of Border Patrol? Was he properly vetted and trained? Or was this vetting and training process compromised by the need to rush bodies to the border to quash unfounded fears about border violence?
Recently, I had a conversation with a staffer of a border congressman about the 1,200 National Guard troops President Obama is trying to deploy to the border. This congressman’s office had applauded the move. I asked the staffer why they had approved of it when the border already has some of the lowest crime rates in the country and is saturated with border agents. The staffer said it couldn’t hurt.
This incident shows that it can and will hurt. If Border Patrol agents who are trained to keep a border brimming with civilian and business traffic flowing and safe, what kind of response will we get from soldiers who are trained to kill?
The outrage to this killing is just gaining steam. Amnesty International joined the Mexican government in calling for a quick and transparent investigation:
“This shooting across the border appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards which compel police to use firearms only as a last resort, in response to an immediate, deadly threat that cannot be contained through lesser means,” said Susan Lee, Americas director at Amnesty International, in a statement Wednesday on the organization’s website.
“We want also for Border Patrol to clarify what are the protocols for use of lethal force against immigrants, but more than anything we’re asking for justice and accountability on this incident,” said Fernando Garcia with the Border Network for Human Rights.
Of course, not everyone is concerned about the use of lethal force in response to rock throwing. The National Border Patrol Council under the moniker BPunion tweeted: “Don’t bring rocks to a gunfight. Border Patrol agents shoot two illegal aliens assaulting them.” The tweet was in response to Saturday’s shooting of two men who were throwing rocks at agents near Tucson. The men were hospitalized with what were described as non-life threatening injuries. The agents were not hurt. (The tweet was pulled down on Tuesday)
Of course the tweeter at the union has a habit of making glib comments about very serious life-and-death incidents. About the man border agents tasered to death, he tweeted: “He had meth in his system and chose to fight an agent. In the BP you don’t get one bean you get the whole burrito!” Wow. Racist much?
Nothing can be done to bring Sergio back, but we should take this opportunity to reexamine how we patrol the border and the use of lethal force. Preventing future deaths would help us heal from this tragedy.
The border is just a line. In the past it used to be a strand of barbed wire and some signs in the Arizona desert. Now it has become a barrier that’s harder and harder to cross. And being on one side of that barrier or another can dramatically affect your safety, your wealth and your opportunities.
In this series, NPR explores the border from Tijuana to the Texas coast. And most of the 2,000-mile frontier is infused with tension. Some of that tension comes from poverty. Some comes from the drug gangs. Some comes from the new fence and the Border Patrol agents in armored SUVs.
The U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Taskforce held a summit in Washington, DC yesterday. At the summit, the task force released their latest report titled “Effective Border Policy: Security, Responsibility and Human Rights“.
The great thing about this task force is that it is bringing together all stakeholders in the formation and articulation of immigration policy – from border community members, to local law enforcement, faith leaders, local elected officials, businesses and, of course, immigrant advocacy groups. This is truly a multi-faceted coalition, representing a sensible and effective approach to border policy.
Latina Lista has a great post, detailing the recommendations made by the task force and lauding the group as a new and powerful approach to border policy.
Perhaps the most revolutionary recommendation to emerge from the task force, and one that is long overdue, is the fact that these leaders represent a new attitude in border community leaders who are tired of the disrespect, dismissal and expectation of Washington for these communities to roll over and comply with policies mandated from DC that directly impact their quality of life — social, business and binational relationships — without including them in the decision-making process.
The full report can be downloaded here, but below is an excerpt from the executive summary:
With the country’s economy in a tailspin and an unprecented bailout for financial institutions being debated by lawmakers, the Department of Homeland Security quietly signed contracts to complete the border wall on Monday.
As the Rio Grande Valley is moved one step closer to having a border wall slice through its communities, one wonders how the United States can justify begininning to spend $400 million on a border wall which is clearly unpopular when our banks are declaring bankruptcy, millions are foreclosing, the War drags on, and the dollar falls in relation to oil prices. I pray these actions and these contracts are forestalled long enough for a new administration to realize the lack of logic in building a border wall while neglecting immigration reform and for the country to finally hear the cries of these border towns in the way.
We need to inject a healthy dose of common sense back into our law-making. We are all suffering from a lack of it at the top levels of government
I know that this question seems almost laughable, the punchline of a bad joke. But it is a very real question on the minds of those attempting to complete the 670 miles of fencing along our nation’s southwest border.
Asked whether a border wall could be built on deadline without illegal workers, Vaughan, with the general contractors group, told the Brownsville Herald in June: “It’s probably borderline impossible to be honest with you.”
In the Rio Grande valley, where work on 70 miles of the wall began last month, this question is even more pressing.
Valley longtimers have cracked wise about the barriers, saying they not only won’t thwart illegal immigrants intent on entering the country but that illegal labor will probably help build them. An estimated 8 million illegal immigrants already work in the U.S., and according to a Pew Hispanic Center report, about 1 in 5 were in the construction industry in 2006.
Federal officials say they have taken steps to ensure only legal workers build the fence that Congress conceived in 2006 in the name of national security. They include:
• In June, President Bush ordered all federal contractors to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s electronic system for verifying the Social Security numbers of their workers.
This “electronic system” is also known as E-verify, which is widely known to be a flawed and ineffective program. In a statement released yesterday, the US Chamber of Commerce commented on the E-verify system, saying, “[W]hile the Chamber understands that the federal government and employers have a compelling interest in seeing that every tool is made available to employers to ensure a legal workforce, the Proposed Rule is misguided, premature, and unwarranted.”
So, this first step to ensure contractors only use “legal” labor seems highly ineffective.
Lets look at the next steps:
• Private companies wanting a piece of the $1.2 billion fence-building project face heavy scrutiny; before they can even join a pool to bid on federal contracts, they must agree to a long list of terms, including that they will hire only legal workers.
Wait, so if they say they will only hire “legal” workers, then they obviously mean it, right? Is that the “heavy scrutiny” they will face?
• Contractors found using illegal labor face legal repercussions, said Homeland Security spokesman Barry Morrissey. “We expect contractors to uphold these agreements,” Morrissey said.
In 2006, a contractor in Southern California agreed to pay nearly $5 million in fines for hiring unauthorized immigrants to build millions of dollars’ worth of fencing, work that included some of the border fence between San Diego and Mexico. So, it seems like these companies are willing to take the hit of “legal repercussoins” if they can continue to exploit unauthorized immigrants for cheap labor.
So, what does this all mean? I believe that the border wall project speaks to the entirety of the immigration debate. Not only do most experts agree that a wall will be ineffective, but we can’t even ensure that we could complete the project without using the hands of those we wish to keep out. In short, our immigration system is broken and only just and humane comprehensive immigration reform is going to fix it. A wall is merely a band-aid, albeit a costly one, on the gaping wound that is our current policy.
Protest March Against the Border Wall August 27th – 31st
Here is a breakdown of the August 27-31protest march against the border wall.
August 27(Wed). Kick off cultural event in Fort Hancock.
August 28 (Thu). From Fort Hancock, walk to Alamo Alto.
August 29 (Fri). From Alamo Alto, walk to Tornillo, hold community event. End in Fabens.
August 30 (Sat). From Fabens, walk to San Elizario, hold community event. End in San Ysleta del Sur with the Tiguas community.
August 31(Sun). Morning ceremony in San Ysleta del Sur . Then to El Paso. After arriving in El Paso, a bi-naional event will be held in Anapra, Chihuahua and Sundland Park, NM.
You know, it was not many years ago that we called an “iron curtain” something immoral and inhumane, something that only cruel and hateful people would do to their fellow man, a product of a totalitarian enemy.
So, from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, from both sides of the border we invite all citizens of good will, organizations, faiths and media to join us in this peaceful and united protest against the border wall.
We Are America raises the voice of immigrants in the dialogue around our country's broken immigration system. A story bank of video, audio, photo and text stories tell about real people and what they have at stake as new immigrants to the United States.
The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) is a national coalition of grassroots organizations fighting for immigrant rights at the local, state and federal level.
Learn more about who we are.
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