Border Patrol faces increased scrutiny following use of lethal force
The Department of Homeland Security has launched a probe of the Border Patrol agency. Since 2010, Border Patrol agents have killed 16 people. In eight cases the incidents involved rock-throwing.
(Page 2 of 3)
Kent Lundgren, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, recalled a time in the 1970s when he was hit in the head while patrolling the border near El Paso, Texas.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"It put me on my knees," Lundgren said. "Had that rock caught me in the temple, it would have been lethal, I have no doubt."
It is extremely rare for US border authorities to face criminal charges for deaths or injuries to migrants. In April, federal prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against a Border Patrol agent in the 2010 shooting death of a 15-year-old Mexican in Texas.
In 2008, a case was dismissed against a Border Patrol agent facing a murder charge after two mistrials. Witnesses testified the agent shot a man without provocation but defense attorneys contended the Mexican migrant tried to hit the agent with a rock.
Mexican families have filed multiple wrongful death lawsuits, and the US government, while admitting no wrongdoing, has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars. Last year, the family of the illegal immigrant killed by the agent whose murder case was dismissed reached an $850,000 settlement. The agent remains employed by Border Patrol.
Even the Mexican government has asked for a change in policy, to no avail, though Border Patrol points out that Mexico has put up no barriers in its country and does little to stop the rock throwers.
"We have insisted to the United States government by multiple channels and at all levels that it is indispensable they revise and adjust Border Patrol's standard operating procedures," Mexico's Foreign Ministry said in a written statement.
Elsewhere around the world, lethal force is often a last resort in such cases. Israeli police, for instance, typically use rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas to disperse rock-throwers.
"There is no such crowd incident that will occur where the Israeli police will use live fire unless it's a critical situation where warning shots have to be fired in the air," said Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Border Patrol agents since 2002 have been provided weapons that can launch pepper-spray projectiles up to 250 feet away. The agency did not provide statistics on how many times they have been used, but officials are quick to note agents along the US-Mexico border operate in vastly different scenarios than authorities in other countries.
They often patrol wide swaths of desert alone — unlike protest situations elsewhere where authorities gather en masse clad in riot gear.
Experts say there's little that can be done to stop the violence, given the delicacies of the diplomacy and the fact that no international law specifically covers such instances.
"Ultimately, the politics of the wider US-Mexico relationship are going to play a much bigger role than the law," said Kal Raustiala, professor of law and director of the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA. "The interests are just too high on both sides to let outrage from Mexico, which is totally understandable, determine the outcome here."