Mexico and the US have worked tirelessly to bolster bilateral trust, particularly as they fight against drug traffickers that have wreaked havoc across Mexico. On Thursday, the US announced some 400 arrests in the US as the culmination of a two-year effort to bust Mexican drug cartels.
But immigration remains a flash point between the two nations – and is threatening to undermine the goodwill that has grown since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.
This week's shooting of a Mexican teenager at the hands of a US Border Patrol agent is the latest incident to provoke outrage among Mexican officials and underlines the fragility of relations between the two neighbors.
The shooting of 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez Guereca occurred on Monday evening at the border between in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, as several young people congregated near the border.
The details of what happened are still murky. Mexico's President Calderon condemned the killing. "The government of Mexico will use all means available to protect the rights of Mexican migrants," Calderon said in a statement, adding that Mexico "reiterates its rejection to the disproportionate use of force on the part of US authorities on the border with Mexico."
Mr. Hernandez Guereca´s death comes amid another border shooting less than two weeks ago, at the crossing station between Tijuana and San Diego. It also comes as Mexican anger mounts at Arizona's immigration law, drawn up in part over US fears of potential spillover violence from drug traffickers that have taken over 22,000 lives in Mexico in three and a half years. President Barack Obama recently said the US will send up to 1,200 National Guard members to secure the border.
“I think there are a lot of sensitivities right now about the border,” says Eric Olson, a senior adviser at the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “It is in everyone's best interest that the relationship between Mexico and the US remains stable and sound. This will make it more complicated.”
New cellphone video of shooting
The US Border Patrol said the incident Monday occurred amidst the mayhem and aggression of rock-throwing by a group of young people trying to enter illegally into the US. But a video obtained by CNN and first aired by Univision Wednesday night, taken with a cell phone video camera, raises questions about what actually occurred. It shows a Border Patrol officer, responding to claims that illegal immigrants were being smuggled into the US, by approaching two suspects on the US side of the border. One is apprehended and dragged a short distance. Then the video shows what appears to be a firearm being aimed at the second suspect on the Mexican side of the border, who had presumably returned and then runs away. Then gunshots are heard on the tape.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference Thursday that authorities will be investigating the tape. "I've only seen a bit of the tape. I've not seen it in its entirety, but that would be something that will obviously be examined as the investigation goes on,” he said.
Frustration in Mexico
The FBI has launched a formal investigation, but Mexican frustration and anger is palpable. Three of four pieces in the leading page of the Opinion section in the daily El Universal were dedicated to US deadly force used against Mexican citizens. “Intolerance at the border” and “American apartheid” were the titles of two.
In another, an editorial condemns the killings of both Guereca and Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, the man shot with a taser gun near San Diego as he resisted deportation. “It is hard to think that the closeness of both events is a coincidence,” the editorial reads. “It happens just as the anti-immigrant xenaphobia of our neighboring country is expressing itself in laws.”
Mr. Olson says he believes the US will work hard – first by not brushing under the rug the deaths at the border – to undo any mistrust that mounts because it understands how crucial cooperation is between both nations.
Just today, US officials from the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced the arrest over some 400 people across 16 states suspected of having ties to Mexican drug trafficking groups. Authorities also seized 3,000 pounds of marijuana, nearly 250 pounds of cocaine, as well as $5.8 million in cash.
Mr. Holder said he believes the border killings will not strain relationships. "There is a bond that exists between Mexico and the United States," Holder said at the press conference. "We have shared interests, and I think that is what we focus on and that is what will keep this relationship strong."