It is early September and Guillermo Arevalo Pedroza is taking his wife and two young girls on a picnic on the south side of the Rio Grande. A couple of shots fired later and Arevalo is dying in the arms of his 9-year-old daughter. These are the types of atrocities that are occurring with dismaying frequency at the hands of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Juan Pablo Perez Santillan, Carlos Lamadrid, and Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca are some of the names of those who have lost their lives in similar incidents.
Questions continue to arise regarding the integrity of the CBP, especially in lieu of the recent shooting of 41-year-old Mexican native, Jesus Flores-Cruz.
The incident occurred on Tuesday, February 18th in Mission, Texas, when two agents on foot suspected multiple people of attempting to cross the border illegally from Mexico. One agent, whose identity remains undisclosed, fired two shots after being attacked by several rocks, killing Flores-Cruz. There were no witnesses.
In a statement following the incident, the Border Patrol claimed that the agent feared for his life at the time of the attack. Spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego, Kelly Thornton, said that prosecutors decided against charging the agent with a crime.
Amongst the responses to the shooting are many who are concerned about the continuing pattern of human rights abuses committed by the Border Patrol under their use-of-force policy.
Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), expressed their indignation following the event. In a statement on behalf of the SBCC, director Christian Ramirez said that the incident “is yet another reminder that the Border Patrol operates with impunity and on the fringes of the Constitution and international law.”
Although bold, this statement holds weight given the number of people killed with lethal force by the CBP. Since 2010, 21 Mexican citizens have been killed, and not one agent involved in the deaths has been prosecuted for their use of lethal force.
This continuing use of lethal weapons raises questions about the agency’s lack of both accountability and oversight. For example, agents are not required to carry non-lethal repellents, such as ‘pepper ball’ guns, which shoot pellets of pepper spray at long-range distances. However, those agents who have made use of such devices have been successful at repelling rock attacks such as that which occurred in the case of Flores-Cruz. 160 separate incidents have been resolved by using these non-lethal devices.
Given that this is the case, it is highly alarming that the CBP rejected a recommendation that they prohibit agents from using lethal weapons against rock throwers and assailants in vehicles.
So, what can be done?
Twenty members of Congress have recently asked to meet with ranking members of the CBP to discuss their growing concern. In addition, the Police Executive Research Forum an independent police review agency, has issued a report with recommendations for the CBP. Among the recommendations are ways for agents to de-escalate tense encounters by taking cover, moving out of range, and/or using non-lethal weapons.
Customs and Border Protection boasts of being the largest law enforcement agency in the United States, which carries with it the responsibility of being accountable to the American public. If attacks continue, it could have serious implications for the CBP’s credibility and integrity.
– Mollie O’Brien