Isabel Garcia & Richard Boren: The struggle against police brutality at the border

[June 4, 2020] “I can’t breathe!” The Black Lives Matter movement has focused national attention on police brutality and the legacy of white supremacy and racism, and the U.S.-Mexico border is a big part of that tragic history. The heavily militarized border is a laboratory for repressive security experiments that have been exported to police departments around the country and abroad. The border is also an incubator for official human rights abuses where no one, not even children, are off limits.

George Floyd’s horrific death set off a national social explosion that reverberated in Arizona with protests and a curfew. People of color have lost hope. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have not been held accountable for dozens of egregious shooting deaths of civilians and other abuses. In 2010, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas died after being tased and assaulted by a group of Border Patrol agents in California. Pedestrians filmed Hernandez as he pleaded for mercy while in handcuffs on the ground. We protested but to no avail. No agent was charged with a crime.

As communities around the country erupt in civil strife and flames it is important to remember the prophetic words of Dr. King, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Nonviolence was Dr. King’s path and it did bring transformative change, but he also recognized the danger when people lose hope.

In 2015, hopes were raised on the border when Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was charged with federal murder charges in the 2012 shooting death of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, destroyed by 10 shots to the back, in Nogales, Sonora. However those hopes were shattered after two inherently unfair trials in 2018 acquitted Swartz. Earlier this year, the family of Jose Antonio and four other Mexican families with similar lawsuits, lost their last hopes for justice when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Mexicans have no constitutional rights to sue in U.S. courts.

Instead of justice we only see more reckless shootings. In February 2019, Tucson resident and U.S. citizen Angel Mendivil was shot in the back of the head by a CBP officer as he drove through the DeConcini port of entry in Nogales into Mexico, apparently just to get him to stop. Mendivil survived with permanent disabilities and no charges were filed against the anonymous officer. CBP is not big on transparency.

It’s hard to fight for justice when you face the threat of deportation. In 2011, Jose Gutierrez, one of founders of the Border Patrol Victims Network, was brutally beaten by CBP officers in San Luis when he attempted to return to his U.S. citizen children after a prior deportation. As usual, no officers were charged. The government tried to deport Gutierrez during a monthlong coma in a Phoenix hospital. On May 21, in the throes of the pandemic, ICE officers hunted him down in Los Angeles and deported him within hours.

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Richard Boren and Isabel Garcia